President of Taxpayer-Funded Antiracist Group Funneled Nearly $300K to Husband's Law Firm

Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium has longstanding ties to Education Department

The Department of Education / Getty Images
March 9, 2021

The president of a taxpayer-funded antiracist auditing center funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to her husband's law firm and to her son over the past decade, filings show.

Susan Shaffer, president of the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, paid her husband Mark Shaffer's law firm $282,996 from 2011 through 2019 for "ongoing legal services," according to tax documents reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. Mark Shaffer is the sole attorney listed on his firm's website.

The consortium has become one of the country's most prominent antiracist auditing nonprofits. It works in 15 states, often in partnership with left-wing organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group, which has ties to the Department of Education, has been exclusively funded by taxpayer dollars since 2017. Susan Shaffer has raked in more than $1.6 million from her antiracist consulting work since 2011.

Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland awarded the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium a $454,680 grant last fall to conduct an audit of the district's K-12 curriculum and hiring policies, the Free Beacon reported in November. The group's tax documents revealed ties to the county government. Ginny Gong, who was listed as the group's director on the its 2018 tax filings, is also the director of a Montgomery County agency.

The consortium's antiracist work is largely funded by taxpayer dollars. Of the $19 million it has raised since 2001, $17 million is from taxpayer-backed government grants. The group has not received a single private donation in four years, though it previously received donations from the Gates Foundation.

Last year, the consortium received a $202,229 bailout from the Paycheck Protection Program. PPP loans were intended to help struggling small businesses survive the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Shaffer paid herself an average $200,000 in salary and other benefits every year since 2011. Shaffer's pay accounts for roughly 20 percent of what the consortium paid all its employees. Most of the group's officers were not compensated for their work. The consortium's website shows it currently has 20 employees.

The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium first hired the Shaffer Law Firm in 2008. Sheryl Denbon served as the group's executive director at the time, while Susan Shaffer served as deputy director. The consulting group first reported payments to Mark Shaffer three years later, on its 2011 tax forms.

Susan Shaffer's husband is not the only direct family member profiting from the consortium's antiracist work. The group hired Shaffer's son, child psychologist Dr. Seth Shaffer, to provide support for families during the coronavirus pandemic, Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium treasurer Jill Moss Greenberg told the Free Beacon.

The consulting agency "operate[s] with [the] highest levels of integrity" and has "strict" conflict of interest policies, Greenberg said, and takes its stewardship of taxpayer dollars "very seriously."

Antiracism is a profitable industry for consultants and educators. Antiracist consultant and bestselling author Robin DiAngelo charges tens of thousands of dollars for hourlong Zoom appearances. DiAngelo made $12,750 from the University of Wisconsin for a speaking event last summer—70 percent more than a black author who spoke at the same event.

While it's not illegal for nonprofits to hire and pay family members for their work, George Leef, the research director at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, told the Free Beacon that the practice is "highly dubious."

"It seems like a conflict of interest. It seems like nepotism. It seems like a violation of trust to lay out that much money to a relative," Leef said. "Where's the accountability? Any taxpayer-funded organization ought to act as if it's got to maintain the highest standards at all times, and that's not what they're doing here. It looks like it is a highly dubious practice. It looks really bad to do this."

Christopher Rufo, a writer at the City Journal and the director of the Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, told the Free Beacon that the booming antiracist-consulting industry's success relies on dividing America.

"Private consultants are cashing in on the latest ideological fad: so-called antiracism," Rufo said. "They are bilking school districts and abusing employees, all at taxpayer expense. This is now a multibillion-dollar industry that in many cases serves only to divide Americans in schools and the workplace. Taxpayers should demand better for their kids."

Rufo said it's "not surprising" that such practices occur within the antiracist consulting industry. 

"Diversity consulting is an industry that is ripe for graft: Its theories are unfalsifiable and its practices require no results," he said. "It's not surprising that families are cashing in—and siphoning off money that should be going to educate children."

The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium's rise to prominence is due in part to its ties to the Education Department. The department in 2011 awarded the group an equity assistance grant, under which it provided services to 850 school districts in six states in the mid-Atlantic. Its portfolio has since expanded beyond the region. The group works in 15 states and territories, including Kentucky and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The antiracist auditing center's contract with the Education Department survived former president Donald Trump's ban on federally funded antiracism training, which President Joe Biden reversed in January.

The Biden administration has also signaled its support for implementing critical race and gender theory in K-12 classrooms. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona developed and implemented a mandatory course based on critical race theory for Connecticut high school students during his tenure as the state's education director.