When racial justice becomes lucrative: Al Sharpton's $1 million compensation

Al Sharpton drew $1,046,948 in compensation in 2018, a fourfold rise since the Black Lives Matter movement started and well above executives at similar organizations.

Updated: August 4, 2020 - 11:41am

For Al Sharpton, the business of racial justice has been very lucrative — his compensation has grown fourfold since the Black Lives Matter movement was founded, tax records show. 

Sharpton and his tax-exempt National Action Network 501(c)(4) organization have been fierce opponents of "threats to racial justice" since the tragic death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The death of Martin was only the beginning in a long line of tragedies to which Sharpton and his network have brought national media attention, becoming in the process among the most outspoken critics of police brutality. It has become somewhat of a business model for Sharpton — and very lucrative at that. 

"Freddie Gray was robbed of the life he had ahead of him, his family was robbed of a loved one, and the Baltimore community has been robbed of a young man and, in recent days, a sense of peace," Sharpton said in a 2015 statement. Sharpton and his National Action Network (NAN) hosted press conferences and staged rallies for the deaths of multiple young men and women killed by police, and Sharpton often attends and speaks at their funeral services — including multiple appearances to honor George Floyd. 

Sharpton was paid a total of $1,238,704 between January 2003 and December 2012, according to a review of National Action Network’s publicly available financial records. In 2013, NAN paid Sharpton $241,545 (roughly the same amount as in each of the previous four years). That was the year that the Black Lives Matter movement was founded after the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the controversial 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. 

Since 2013, Sharpton's compensation at NAN has risen dramatically along with NAN's revenues. In 2014, Sharpton was paid $412,644 — a more than 70% increase over the previous year — and NAN’s total revenues approached $7 million. (NAN's average annual revenue in the preceding three years was $4.4 million). NAN's most recently available financial report is for the year 2018, and it lists Sharpton's salary as $1,046,948 — a four-fold increase from 2013. NAN's revenues in 2018 were $7.3 million — its highest ever. 

When asked about his large salary, Sharpton said, "It's a six-day-a-week job and several hours a day, and when [the compensation firm] compared it to other companies, other non-profits, that's the salary that they would get." But a review of executive salaries at similar nonprofits found that Sharpton’s is well above average.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, for example, serves as the Executive Director of the Chicago-based Citizenship Education Fund (the lesser known 501(c)(3) affiliate of Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition), which received $6,766,123 in 2017 and $4,774,196 in 2016 (compared with NAN's $6,323,214 and $5,821,440, respectively). Jackson collected $215,000 in 2017 and $118,750 in 2016 from Citizenship Education Fund — a combined $333,750 compared with Sharpton’s $932,216 over the same period ($244,661 and $687,555 respectively). While their organizations' revenues are roughly the same, Sharpton's salary is nearly triple Jackson’s salary.

The progressive activist group MoveOn.org pulled in $10,017,366 in total revenue in 2018. That year, MoveOn.org paid its executive director $123,476 (for 26 hours of work per week). 

Color of Change is a social justice organization founded by James Rucker and Van Jones in 2005 and was modeled after MoveOn.org. (Color of Change board member Alicia Garza — unpaid — is credited with coining the term #blacklivesmatter and co-founding the movement in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013). In 2018, Color of Change received $8,173,663 in total revenue and paid its president $320,857. 

That same year, Sharpton received over $1 million — more than triple the amount Color of Change paid its leader and more than eight times what MoveOn.org paid its highest earner. 

According to NAN's website, Sharpton founded the organization in 1991. It now has 93 chapters across the United States and hosts radio stations in Birmingham, Cincinnati, Detroit, Tallahassee, and Washington, D.C. NAN's about page, titled "No Justice, No Peace," lists seven areas of action: criminal justice reform, police accountability, crisis intake and victim assistance, voting rights, corporate responsibility and pension diversity, youth leadership, and bridging the digital divide. 

This month, Sharpton will lead NAN's "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" march in Washington. The march is scheduled for Aug. 25 to coincide with the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington. 

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