BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A website that touts itself as the world's largest source of information about charities has added a new feature: a warning label on tax-exempt nonprofits accused of spreading hate.
GuideStar, a self-described "neutral" repository for data on more than 2 million charities, recently flagged 46 nonprofits for being labeled as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A banner atop each nonprofit's GuideStar profile includes the law center's logo and a link to its home page.
GuideStar's president and CEO, Jacob Harold, said the new feature reflects a "broader shift in how we imagine our role in the (nonprofit) field." Adding new data sources is part of that shift, but Harold also framed the warning labels as a response to the recent rise in "hateful rhetoric" in the U.S.
"It's unique in that it's highly politicized in a highly politicized moment in history," he said.
Several leaders of flagged groups said they will contact GuideStar and demand the removal of the banners from their profiles. Some of the groups have accused the Alabama-based law center of using its hate group label to smear organizations that don't share its ideology by lumping them in with overtly hateful groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan.
"This is defamation. GuideStar is an accomplice to this defamation now," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
One of the red-flagged groups is a modestly funded nonprofit operated by white nationalist Richard Spencer, who popularized the term "alt-right" to describe a fringe movement blending racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigration views. The list also includes several organizations with multimillion-dollar budgets, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Family Research Council and the American Family Association.
Harold said GuideStar relied on the law center's list and didn't conduct its own analysis of whether a nonprofit deserves to be labeled a hate group.
"But we are making a judgment to trust that third party," he said. "We feel that's quite defensible."
However, Harold said the site is reevaluating its "design choice" to prominently feature the warning label atop each group's profile page.
"It conveys a degree of certainty that doesn't reflect our own certainty," he said.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said GuideStar is damaging its reputation as "neutral arbiters of information."
"It's a breach of their obligation for impartiality, and they ought to take it down," he said.
The warning labels say GuideStar believes the law center's analysis of hate groups is "strong enough to share" despite disagreement over some of its choices.
"We leave it to you to come to your own conclusions," it states.
Tax experts doubt the groups' donors will be scared off by the banners on GuideStar, which is primarily known for keeping a massive database of IRS tax returns for nonprofits.
"My guess is if you're a donor to the American Family Association, whatever the SPLC says about the organization is not going to make a difference. You're either in or out," said Marcus Owens, a Washington-based attorney and former IRS official.
GuideStar's profile on Richard Spencer's Virginia-based National Policy Institute also notes that the IRS automatically revoked its tax-exempt status for failing to file tax returns for three consecutive years. Spencer said he isn't surprised by GuideStar's use of the SPLC warning label but called it "completely unfair."
"The SPLC itself is a highly politically charged organization," he said. "The very fact that they're granting authority to the SPLC as a neutral observer is not really credible."
SPLC spokeswoman Wendy Via said the law center thoroughly analyzes and researches groups before including them on its list.
"Hate comes in a lot of different forms," Via said.
This story has been edited to correct the style of the company's name: GuideStar.