What started out as a simple “Women’s March” in Portland, OR turned out to be a series of mistakes that would have organizations like the NAACP withdrawing and then, in the end, a fund-raising nightmare. The origins of the March that would take place on January 21, 2017 were tied to the larger Women’s March held in Washington, DC, although it is very clear the march in Portland was not organized by the same leaders in DC.
The Women’s March in Portland seemed to be doomed from the start as it was quickly blacklisted by the usually supportive and liberal NAACP. The organization did not want to be tied to a march or organizers that dismissed including them in the actual march.
It seems ironic that a march to protest discrimination was, in fact, discriminating against some of their own. Even the last minute addition of a woman of color, Margaret Jacobsen, in the leadership role was not enough to sway the NAACP to stay. With mere weeks to take over the planning of the Portland Women’s March, it seemed like this simply was not enough time for organizers to do a legitimate job.
The simple fact is that the Women’s March was not a non-profit that was able to legally take donations so at some point they went looking for a “fiscal sponsor”. A fiscal sponsor would normally be an actual non-profit that could oversee the donation of funds. The sponsor would take physical custody of all donations and generally would take a small portion of those funds for the work. This is a fairly common way a small or new organization can take donations as a non-profit.
A fiscal sponsorship is a formal agreement between the sponsoring non-profit and whoever is organizing the project and it is a legally binding written contract. While the organizers of the Portland Women’s March realized they needed a fiscal sponsor, they did not take the time to draw up any type of written agreement. The organizers also knew enough to find another organization that was able to take donations, but as they would find out later, the non-profit status of the sponsor was not legitimate.
In all of the uproar with the NAACP, the Portland Women’s March sought to somehow expand the diversity within the organizers. Not only did this include replacing the leadership with Jacobson, but at some point working with Rebekah Brewis. Rebekah Brewis would come to them as the Executive Director of Portland Trans Pride (PTP). As luck would have it, PTP was presented to the organizers as a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status. PTP would become the fiscal sponsor of the march.
It is unclear why, in the process of becoming the fiscal sponsor of the event, there was no formal agreement drawn up. It is also unclear why there seemed to be very little research about the PTP performed before they were brought on board. Portland Trans Pride was actaully not in the position to legally be a fiscal sponsor as the PTP was not a stand alone 501(c)(3).
Portland Trans Pride is under their own fiscal sponsorship with Media Alliance. PTP was not in any position to step in as the sponsor of the Portland Women’s March. Without a legal agreement or any background investigation, the organizers of the march simply handed over an unknown amount of money to Brewis.
The march organizers did secure legitimate organizations to support portions of the march. Planned Parenthood paid $2,337 to provide portable toilets for the event. The original event permit fee totaling $4,901 was paid by PTP. What is still not understood is how much was actually raised at the event and is now missing.
As a part of the Portland-based march, at least 3,559 shirts were sold. According to the site where the shirts were sold, at least $5 of each shirt sold was earmarked to go to the march organizers. This is some of the missing money and it totals at least $17,795. That amount would not be the total profit from the shirts, just the amount that was posted as going to organizers. There is also profit above that missing $17,795. It is estimated that the actual amount of missing shirt money alone is $22,000.
The shirts were not the only source of money coming into the march. There was also a direct link on the homepage of the Portland Women’s March to make donations via a PayPal account in the name of the PTP. That account has since been closed. A GoFundMe page also raised $1,630.
It seems that PTP had free reign to raise funds and then control everything that was raised. According to Jacobsen, “We do not know how much was raised from direct donations because we do not have access to those records.”
It seems the only person who truly knows how much was raised whether, via direct donations from the 100,000 people attending the march, online donations and shirt sales is the same person now with sole access to the funds. Brewis is now the center of the controversy involving missing funds and the march.
This is not the first time Brewis made headlines, as she has a long criminal history, mental health issues and lawsuits against the prison system in Oregon. Brewis originally served a 70-month sentence for robbery that included time added on for assault and other crimes while in jail. Brewis would also gain infamy for self castrerating while in prison and then sue the prison system for ignoring the fact she was self -described as being narcissistic and having borderline personality disorders.
Even if Brewis is found to be the only person that actually took the missing funds, it is clear the failure of the fundraising goes well beyond Brewis. The march organizers seemed to make little or no effort to actually take donations in a legal manner. In addition, they ignored the history of Brewis, failed to perform even a basic search to see if PTP was a 501(c)(3), and glossed over the legalities of entering into a formal agreement in the form of a fiscal sponsorship. Even as the organizers attempt to distance themselves from Brewis, they do share in the blame.