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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) used to worry about skin color. But these days, the NAACP is mostly worried about the color of money. Last year, the celebrated civil rights organization made headlines when its national operation amassed a multimillion-dollar deficit. Now the group’s Washington, D.C., chapter is struggling with a similar financial crisis. The NAACP’s local branch faces a mounting debt, an intervention by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and possible shutdown.
According to chapter board members, last month the IRS seized the local branch’s bank account for nonpayment of $26,000 in federal taxes. Moreover, NAACP documents obtained by Washington City Paper show that the local organization also owes the District government thousands of dollars in employer withholding taxes.
In the wake of the seizure, the board laid off Doris Tue, its secretary of 20 years; changed the locks at the chapter’s 10th and U Street office; and temporarily stopped daily operations. Because the branch failed to pay employer taxes, Tue cannot collect unemployment insurance, say board members, who requested anonymity.
“[The branch] is bankrupt,” says one officer of the board. “We owe taxes for the last four years.”
Sam Serio, a spokesman for the IRS, would not “confirm or deny” whether the agency has placed a levy against the branch’s account. Serio says that information about such seizures is not public.
“Usually that type of levy occurs if there has been no cooperation,” Serio says. “Normally the levy happens when we feel the interest of the government is in danger.”
The Rev. Morris L. Shearin Sr., president of the NAACP’s D.C. branch and pastor at Israel Baptist Church, did not return telephone calls.
According to the May report submitted to the board by Treasurer Patricia Gill Hampton, the chapter held slightly more than $4,000 in its bank account last month. But the report also details outstanding obligations that amount to more than $30,000. The branch owes the IRS $26,615.49 in unpaid social security and other withholding taxes dating back to 1992. It also must pay $3,657.79 in District employer withholding taxes. And it has fallen six months behind in its rent, for a debt of nearly $2,000.
Though the national NAACP organization has been plagued by financial mismanagement, the D.C. chapter’s financial woes may owe less to careless bookkeeping than to declining membership. A nationwide poll conducted in 1993 found that most African-Americans believe the civil rights group is irrelevant because it doesn’t address issues critical the black community such as crime, education, and unemployment. This perception has caused local NAACP branches to dwindle. The District’s is no exception.
According to NAACP documents, the D.C. branch collected only $3,095 from members in April, nowhere near enough to fund a full-scale local office. Perhaps even more telling: Contributions from youth members totaled a mere $25.