Diversity Programs Supported by SVB Wrongly Labeled as Donations to BLM

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Quick Take  

A database that claims to show corporate contributions to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes” doesn’t show any contributions from Silicon Valley Bank to Black Lives Matter. But some conservative commentators are citing it to falsely claim that the bank gave more than $73 million to the organization.


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The failure of Silicon Valley Bank has drawn commentary from across the political spectrum. But some conservatives have highlighted a false claim connecting the bank to Black Lives Matter.

Shortly after federal regulators took control of SVB’s assets on March 10, making it the second-largest bank failure since at least 2001, some conservative commentators began claiming that it had donated millions to BLM, the social justice organization that began after the vigilante murder of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013 and gained widespread attention after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, for example, told his audience on March 14, “Silicon Valley Bank — brace yourself — spent more than $73 million on donations to BLM and related organizations. Wow. And this is not personal funds, apparently these were bank funds. Might be kind of nice to have that money now.”

And the conservative website Breitbart ran a headline claiming: “Failed Silicon Valley Bank Gave Black Lives Matter over $73 Million.”

But that’s not true.

Those claims and many others like them are based on an analysis from the conservative Claremont Institute. The organization recently posted a database purporting to show corporate contributions to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes.”

Despite the name of the project — the “BLM Funding Database” — direct donations to BLM groups account for about 2% of the total amount included in the database for all corporations.

So, the vast majority of the funding went toward “related causes.” In the case of SVB, all of it did. The bank didn’t donate anything to BLM, according to the database.

The Claremont Institute defined “related causes” as “organizations and initiatives that advance one or more aspects of BLM’s agenda.”

In a March 14 opinion piece announcing the database, the institute described BLM as encompassing “the full range of leftist causes,” saying, “its goal is to undermine capitalism, the nation state, and Western civilization.”

That’s a broad mandate. After looking into what met that threshold for SVB, we found that the institute had included a need-based scholarship program, a commitment to lend to and support underserved borrowers, and a program to match employees’ charitable donations.

It’s also worth noting that, while it’s true that the database had originally listed SVB as having donated about $73.5 million to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes” since 2020, Claremont Institute later amended the entry and removed funds that went toward an internal program within the bank to support “diverse, emerging talent” and gender parity because the spending predated 2020.

That brought the total to about $70.7 million, which is what we’ll examine below.

A Pledge to Economic Diversity

SVB announced a plan in 2021 to invest $50 million in its diversity and inclusion programs over the following five years. In its 2021 “Corporate Responsibility Report,” SVB touted its “Access to Innovation” program, which had started in 2019 with the aim of increasing “opportunities for underrepresented individuals in the innovation economy.”

The program focuses on “women, Black and Latinx individuals,” according to the 2021 report. “This includes hiring and mentoring, educational and networking opportunities, expanding access to capital and diversifying the venture capital (VC) ecosystem.”

The report then said, “We plan to invest $50 million in our programs and partnerships in the next five years to change more than 25,000 lives.”

So, more than two thirds of the total amount the Claremont Institute listed was a pledged contribution to the bank’s effort to diversify the “innovation economy” through investments to “underserved small-business owners” and increase training and hiring opportunities for “disadvantaged young people,” specifically women, Blacks and Hispanics.

And, on top of that, the commitment was to spend $50 million on the program over the course of five years, but the bank folded just two years after making the pledge.

PPP Fees Donated to Various Charities

The next largest chunk identified by the Claremont Institute was $20 million, although its description of it is unclear. We asked for details about how they calculated the total, but the institute responded only with a prepared statement and didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

Here’s what the institute wrote in its explanation included in the database: “SVB donated $20M in net fees paid to them by the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to support additional COVID-19 relief; a new $5M, full-ride, needs-based University Scholarship program to students at four universities, including two HBCUs; economic development; and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts through 2022.”

We’ll unpack that.

The Small Business Administration paid processing fees to lenders, like SVB, that provided Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a bank received a 5% fee on each loan of up to $350,000.

At the end of 2020, SVB gave $20 million of the amount it had collected in processing fees to its charitable foundation, the Silicon Valley Bank Foundation, for “diversity and community causes over the next two years,” according to the proxy statement issued by the bank ahead of its 2021 shareholder meeting. The proxy statement was included in Claremont’s database.

The SVB Foundation’s 990 tax form, which is required of all registered nonprofit organizations, shows that the foundation in 2020 did receive a $20 million donation from the bank. But none of the foundation’s grants that year went to Black Lives Matter. According to the 990 filed for 2020, the foundation gave a total of $132,000 to 10 organizations, including a group supporting wildlife affected by the wildfires in Australia, a hospice care project and various children’s organizations. There are no more recent 990 forms available yet.

Later, in May 2021, SVB announced another initiative funded by fees it collected from the SBA for PPP loans. The bank said in a press release that it would commit $5 million to fund 25 full undergraduate scholarships at four universities — Arizona State University, Tulane University, Florida A&M University and Xavier University of Louisiana. The last two, as the Claremont Institute noted, are historically Black universities.

The scholarships were open to anyone who met the financial need and academic performance criteria, according to the press release. SVB also said that it chose those four universities because of their “direct and measurable impact to students, the majors and programs that align with SVB’s future employment needs and their geographic distribution.”

It’s possible that the scholarship fund came out of the $20 million given to the SVB Foundation. But we cannot tell without reviewing more recent 990 forms, which are not available.

In any case, SVB did use money that it received for providing PPP loans for charitable causes, but there’s no evidence that any of it went to Black Lives Matter.

Matching Employee Donations

Finally, the last portion of the total amount listed in the database for SVB was $650,000 in donations from SVB and its employees to various social justice organizations.

According to the Claremont Institute’s explanation, “SVB also created a 2:1 employee charitable gift matching program for donations supporting ‘justice and equity for Black Americans,’ which raised nearly $400K. It allocated a further $250K from the SVB Foundation to support grants for social justice organizations including the NAACP, ACLU, and National Urban League.” Notably missing from the institute’s list is Black Lives Matter.

That breakdown is largely supported by SVB’s 2020 “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” brochure and its 2021 “Corporate Responsibility Report,” which the Claremont Institute included as support.

Corporate responsibility reporting is “standard business practice in the Banking sector,” according to a report from KPMG.

SVB’s 2021 “Corporate Responsibility Report” said, “In 2020, our employees rallied behind causes important to them and the communities they serve. Through one of several two-to-one giving opportunities, SVBers donated $401,188, which supplemented SVB’s corporate donations to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, American Civil Liberties Union, National Urban League and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.”

But neither the institute nor the bank show that any of the money from the matching program went to BLM.

And, regarding the $250,000 spent on supporting social justice organizations, that number comes from the “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” brochure, which said, “We also allocated $250k from the SVB Foundation to support grants for social justice organizations where SVB employees volunteer.” The institute included the brochure in the database for support.

But, similarly, none of the organizations listed by either SVB or the Claremont Institute specify that Black Lives Matter was a recipient.

So, while it’s possible that some of the employee matching donations may have gone to BLM, none of the evidence provided by the Claremont Institute supports that.

Bottom Line: Database Shows No Donations From SVB to BLM

When we reached out to the institute for more details, as we said, we were provided with a statement that said, in part (emphasis theirs), “Claremont’s BLM Funding Database tracks contributions and pledges made to the BLM movement and related causes, which we define on our database as organizations and initiatives that advance one or more aspects of BLM’s agenda, and which were made in the wake of the BLM riots of 2020.”

Even so, it’s a stretch to include a needs-based college scholarship fund as a donation to “the BLM movement and related causes.” Similarly, including a pledge to increase economic diversity through a program the bank, itself, initiated also suggests that the threshold for what goes into the database is overly broad.

And, importantly, the database shows no contributions from SVB went to BLM.

So it’s just plain false to claim, as Breitbart did, that the total amount shown in the database — more than $70 million — represented how much SVB “Gave Black Lives Matter.”


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Farley, Robert. “What to Know About Trump-Era Bank Deregulation and Bank Failures.” FactCheck.org. 16 Mar 2023.

Americans Deserve To Know Who Funded BLM Riots.” Newsweek. 14 Mar 2023.

Center for the American Way of Life. Claremont Institute. BLM Funding Database. Accessed 15 Mar 2023.

Center for the American Way of Life. Claremont Institute. BLM Funding Database. Accessed 16 Mar 2023.

Silicon Valley Bank. “Corporate Responsibility Report 2021.” 2021.

Silicon Valley Bank. Press release. “Silicon Valley Bank Introduces ‘Access to Innovation’ to Increase Opportunities for Underrepresented People in the Innovation Economy.” 1 Oct 2019.

Claremont Institute. Email response to FactCheck.org. 16 Mar 2023.

U.S. Department of the Treasury. “Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Information Sheet Lenders.” Accessed 16 Mar 2023.

Silicon Valley Bank. 2021 Proxy Statement. 4 Mar 2021.

Silicon Valley Bank Foundation. 990 — 2020. 8 Nov 2021.

Silicon Valley Bank. Press release. “Silicon Valley Bank Expands COVID-19 Response & Community Support.” 27 Apr 2020.

Silicon Valley Bank. Press release. “SVB Financial Group Announces Full-Ride Undergraduate University Scholarship Program.” 12 May 2021.

Silicon Valley Bank. “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” Aug 2020.

Silicon Valley Bank. “Corporate Responsibility Report 2021.” 2021.

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