The City of Portland, Oregon, last week reaffirmed its commitment to giving a $5 million grant to an "anti-racist" group that won't say what it plans to do with the money.
The city in 2020 agreed to fund the progressive advocacy group Reimagine Oregon to the tune of $1.9 million a year, with no end date specified. At the time, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler (D.) called the grant the "centerpiece" of his budget proposal. Three years later, the organization has not said what it plans to do with the grant money. Nor has it spent a penny of the nearly $5 million in taxpayer funds, which are now sitting, untouched, in city coffers.
Formed by black activists in 2020, Reimagine Oregon outlines policy ideas to "dismantle systemic racism" through policies such as defunding the police and redistributing wealth. Last week, Portland city commissioner Mingus Mapps (D.) proposed terminating the grant and redirecting the money to other causes. But after fierce blowback from local black activists, the commission and mayor tanked his amendment on Wednesday.
Mapps, the only black member of the Portland city commission, told the Washington Free Beacon he was disappointed by the opposition to his proposal.
"I was trying to push these dollars out to African-Americans," Mapps said. "We have to be more competent at the basics of government."
Portland lawmakers’ recommitment to Reimagine Oregon comes after high-profile "anti-racist" and equity groups have come under fire for their murky finances and shoddy track records. One co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network, the umbrella group for the grassroots movement, secretly bought a $6 million house with the group’s funds. Another BLM executive allegedly stole $10 million for his own use.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio blamed the city for preventing Reimagine Oregon from accessing the funds and claimed that a city agency will submit a plan for the grant money in May. "That’s when we will all learn" how the group intends to spend $5 million, Rubio said.
Reimagine Oregon does not appear in the IRS directory of tax-exempt organizations and boasts just one staff member: Justice Rajee, a podcaster who is also running this year for a local school district board seat. The group was reportedly organized under the umbrella of a few nonprofits, including Urban League Portland and the Coalition of Communities of Color.
Urban League Portland and Reimagine Oregon did not respond to a query about its legal status.
Formed at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Reimagine Oregon was feted by media and politicians in its early days.
Then-Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D.) met with members of the group and promised to put racial equity at the focus of state laws moving forward.
"Racism and these racial disparities impact every part of our culture and our economy and the pandemic has further exacerbated these disparities," Brown said at a July 2020 meeting.
Bowing to pressure from the group, Wheeler cut $15 million from the Portland Police Department—$5.2 million of which he would later restore, as Portland reeled from rising crime.
But Reimagine Oregon has largely fizzled out since then, barely even updating its website. Last September, the group posted a notice that promised a report "detailing the outcomes and discussing the story, findings and next steps for Reimagine Oregon," without any other specifics.
After Mapps made his proposal to roll back the years of unspent funding and put it elsewhere, Rajee posted a new statement saying Mapps’s proposal "has demonstrated that [city leaders] cannot be trusted to hold to the City of Portland’s stated Equity Goals & Strategies."
"There is already an effort to pit community members against each other in pursuit of these resources," Rajee’s statement said.
He added that when Mapps began looking into Reimagine Oregon’s funds, "I made it clear to commissioners that pitting Black people and the many issues that impact our well-being against each other, is one of the most deplorable tactics of institutional anti-black racism we experience."
The city will now funnel the cash through a city bureaucracy focused on small business, which will ostensibly coordinate with Reimagine Oregon to implement the anti-racist group’s goals. Still, lawmakers acknowledged that they don’t know where the money will ultimately go.
But according to Rubio and the mayor, Reimagine Oregon has nothing for which to apologize. The pair says the city is to blame for not giving Reimagine Oregon ready access to the money in the first place.