Politics & Policy

Inside One More Sketchy Sharpton-Family Nonprofit

Dominique Sharpton (Neilson Barnard/Getty)

Al Sharpton’s daughter Dominique has recently grabbed headlines for her $5 million lawsuit against the City of New York over a sprained ankle — but the shakedown may not stop there.

New records reviewed by National Review show Sharpton’s daughter and her boyfriend, Marcus Bright, together run a shadowy nonprofit that shares corporate donors, board members, and office space with Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and they won’t answer any questions about it.

In tax filings, Education for a Better America (EBA) states that its mission is “to build a bridge between policy makers and the classroom by supporting innovations in the delivery of education and disseminating information and findings that impact our schools.” The nonprofit’s publications show the group hosting or participating in education-focused assemblies, speeches, summits, and events in New York City, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., among other cities.

“It’s all a scam,” says one source close to the Sharpton family. “It’s a cover for money, basically, to subsidize [Dominique] Sharpton and Bright to do what they do. . . . They put it all on their Instagram and their Facebook. Most of the time, it’s like they’re on vacation. . . . One could argue, being totally objective, that some of what [Al] Sharpton has done in terms of advocacy has helped black people and civil rights. Tell me one thing that Education for a Better America has done to help education.”

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Ms. Sharpton wrote in an e-mail that “our board has declined an interview with National Review,” and she failed to respond to an e-mail requesting an interview about the many instances in which her personal life and professional life entwine.

“The fact that the organization’s leaders will not answer questions is a red flag. The most precious commodity a charity has is the public’s trust.”

“Great charities are not only willing but eager to answer questions about their operations and impact,” says Sandra Miniutti, vice president for nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator. “The fact that the organization’s leaders will not answer questions is a red flag. The most precious commodity a charity has is the public’s trust. So, when a charity’s leaders aren’t committed to being transparent and accountable, they can do irreparable damage to that trust.”

EBA’s failure to answer questions about its work wasn’t its only abnormality.

Even as Ms. Sharpton runs an organization focused largely on college preparedness and college education, it’s not clear that she herself is a college graduate. National Review confirmed that she has completed three semesters at Temple University but could find no indication that she obtained a degree. On her LinkedIn page, she lists herself as an actress “trained in musical theatre” with a “voice range” of “low E to high G.” In addition to her work at EBA, she is also currently the national membership director at her father’s National Action Network.

EBA’s precise origins remain murky. The entity was incorporated in Delaware in June 2011, registered to the Corporation Trust Company at 1209 Orange Street in Wilmington — the listed legal address of at least 285,000 other companies. The New York Times focused on that address in a 2012 report on how some “big corporations, small-time businesses, rogues, scoundrels and worse” had flocked to Delaware “in hopes of minimizing taxes, skirting regulations, plying friendly courts or, when in need, covering their tracks.”

But the nonprofit’s tax records show that instead of calling an obscure Delaware shell office home, EBA operates on the 14th floor of 561 Seventh Avenue in New York City. That just so happens to be the same address as the corporate offices of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

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National Action Network has partnered and participated with EBA frequently, also receiving EBA sponsorship for some of its events. In fact, National Action Network is mentioned as a participant in 17 of 46 EBA events held between January 15, 2013, and November 3, 2014. Several of these featured speeches by Al Sharpton, and many of EBA’s news releases focus on the Rev’s activism, speeches, and events.

EBA runs on a modest budget and has no records suggesting that it has accrued tax debt, unlike National Action Network, which listed $819,000 in unpaid tax liabilities at the end of 2013.

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Dial the number listed for Ms. Sharpton’s nonprofit, and National Action Network answers the phone. And EBA’s board secretary, Donald Coleman, is also listed as a National Action Network board member in the latest tax filings available.

Dial the number listed for Ms. Sharpton’s nonprofit, and National Action Network answers the phone.

According to non-public tax records released by EBA to National Review, the bulk of the nonprofit’s $195,500 in 2014 revenue derived from corporate donors, many of which have also made hefty contributions to National Action Network. General Electric, which gave EBA $70,000 in 2014, gave Al Sharpton’s nonprofit $25,000 in 2013. Magic Johnson Enterprises Inc. gave EBA $50,000 last year, and Alabama Power Foundation gave $10,000; both companies have also sponsored National Acton Network events.

Regardless of these ties to National Action Network, Education for a Better America says in its tax filings that it is not related to any other tax-exempt or taxable entity, also denying being “a party to a business transaction with . . . a family member of a current or former officer, director, trustee, or key employee.”

Miniutti, the Charity Navigator spokeswoman, says: “It’s odd that they’re not putting down that there’s an affiliation with the other group, especially if they’re sharing offices, phone numbers, and board members. That doesn’t necessarily pass the smell test.”

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The records do not make clear whether Ms. Sharpton receives pay for her work at EBA. The nonprofit says in tax filings that the board approved CEO compensation, but it also lists no pay for any staffers, including Ms. Sharpton. Though the Internal Revenue Service has not as of this writing answered National Review’s request for clarification, by some interpretations of the 990 form, nonprofits may not have to list officer, director, trustee, or employee compensation below $100,000.

In addition to not detailing any paid officers, EBA’s tax filings do not mention Marcus Bright, who is listed on its website as executive director. In December, Ms. Sharpton told the New York Daily News that Bright was her boyfriend, adding, “He and my dad talk, they go to dinner without me.”

Though EBA publications list Ms. Sharpton and her boyfriend as present at events in several cities, the nonprofit’s tax filings report no money whatsoever spent on travel. The biggest expenditure listed, for $113,449, is for “training workshops.” National Review received no answer from EBA about what expenses were included in “training workshop” costs.

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As of publication of this article, EBA’s website listed Bright not only as its executive director but also an adjunct professor at Florida International University. His LinkedIn Page also lists him as a present adjunct professor of public administration at FIU.

But the university’s human-resources department said in an e-mail that it was “unable to provide [a] record for the past year for Marcus Bright as he has been inactive since 12/08/2012.” One June 1, Bright forwarded to National Review a 2014 FIU email that appeared to invite him to a Department of Public Administration adjunct faculty meeting. National Review then followed up with the chair of the FIU Department of Public Administration, who said in an email: “I can confirm that Dr. Bright is not adjuncting for us. If he is, it is with another Department.” The program’s coordinator said that “based on the email from HR, it looks like he was last active on 12/08/12, in that case, Fall 2012.”

On his LinkedIn page, Bright says he is presently an adjunct professor at Lynn University.

In March, university spokeswoman Stephanie Brown told National Review that Bright was not listed in its staff directory, adding that as a private not-for-profit institution, Lynn University was not required to provide the employee records we had requested. On June 3, Brown said she’d discovered adjunct professors were not listed in the corporate directory, but that she’d since learned Bright taught five graduate courses at Lynn University since August 2014.

Before publication of this article, Bright did not respond to an e-mail inquiry asking about FIU or Lynn University’s statements regarding his status as an adjunct.

After the publication of this article, Bright tweeted at National Review to “stop your false reporting and slander,” apparently referring to his status at both universities. We reached out to him again on June 1 offering him a post-publication opportunity to comment and answer questions about his adjunct work, as well as the many irregularities in EBA’s tax filings.

“The Board of EBA has declined your interview request and I will abide by that,” Bright wrote in a June 1 email. “I have taught public administration at either Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, or Lynn University every year since 2011. It is possible that I could be teaching part time at any of these universities at any given semester. I could be listed as an Adjunct Professor at any of these places depending on the semester. I teach two classes per semester at Lynn University currently because that is all that I can handle with a 40 hour a week job at Miami-Dade County Public Schools and doing EBA work with whatever time is left.”

On June 2, Bright notified National Review by email that his bio entry on the EBA website no longer listed his FIU adjunct position. On June 3, Bright sent additional comment by email, saying: “I am not currently teaching this year at Florida Atlantic University but am still listed in their Adjunct Faculty pool. … I assumed the same at FIU based on previous conversations and e-mails with FIU personnel. FIU never informed me that I was no longer in their Adjunct Faculty pool.”

Because EBA’s tax filings do not even list Bright, it’s unclear whether he draws a salary from the nonprofit, and he did not respond to questions about his position or pay. But he does have another job, this one in the public sector.

Oddities like the ones revealed in EBA’s tax filings aren’t normal in the nonprofit world.

Florida public records show that in fiscal year 2015 Bright has made more than $52,000 as an administrator in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of Educational Equity, Access, and Diversity. National Review also reviewed Bright’s time sheets and discovered that since the school year started last fall, in addition to several unpaid absences, he has taken at least eleven paid temporary-duty days, many of which coincide with EBA and National Action Network events.

John Schuster, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, says that employees are permitted temporary absences “for the purpose of performing other job-related assignments,” including professional development, conferences, jury duty, or military leave.

“Mr. Bright’s responsibilities in the Office of Educational Equity, Access and Diversity include tracking and reporting about new initiatives that are emerging to create access for minority students,” Schuster says. “Temporary Duty would be appropriate for this responsibility.” Schuster also provided data on the “ethnic composition of students” within the district, showing that as of October 2014, 22.3 percent of its students were black, and 68.4 percent were Hispanic.

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Though Bright has received public pay to participate in EBA and National Action Network events, it’s unclear whether Ms. Sharpton’s nonprofit has received further public-sector money. The New York City comptroller and Department of Education both said they had no records on file regarding awards to the nonprofit, and EBA’s nonprofit filings list no public support.

But in its brochure “2014 Year End Review,” it lists as partners the several public-school districts and universities, the City and School District of Philadelphia, the New York City Department of Education, and the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans. And its event speakers have included top Obama-administration officials, such as Valerie Jarrett, Kathleen Sebelius, and Arne Duncan.

As Ms. Sharpton receives increased scrutiny because of her sprained-ankle lawsuit, the public interest would be well served by more sunlight on her nonprofit. Oddities like the ones revealed in EBA’s tax filings aren’t normal in the nonprofit world, though they abound in the dealings of Ms. Sharpton’s father. Her silence on these irregularities may well speak volumes.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center.

Editor’s Note: This piece originally misidentified the New York Daily News as the New York Post. It has been corrected. This article has also been updated since initial publication to reflect new comments and information about Marcus Bright’s work history.


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