Since 2017, AAI's financial affairs have been riddled with mismanagement.

A poorly-constituted EGM will do nothing to address these issues.

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The AAI Files, Part Four

As Deep Throat impatiently hissed in a breakthrough moment of All The President’s Men: “Follow the money.” In December, Atheist Alliance International (AAI) published a Disclosure Document which openly admitted the board authorized payments to various directors of the organization or their family members. Bizarrely, the board has decided that the best response to these (and other) revelations is to hold a rigged EGM.

The controversial payments happened in 2017. Coincidentally, this was the first year AAI failed to present any accounts or hold an AGM.

The case of the £350

The Disclosure Document reveals that in November 2017, “AAI board awarded a contract to Bill Flavell’s daughter” without tender. The work involved the website and would cost £350. Flavell, who has never received a single vote from any affiliate in his five years on the board, was the Vice President at the time. Even the notoriously obtuse AAI understood this was a problem. There is a prohibition on self-dealing transactions in non-profit organizations under California law. Their response was to declare Flavell “ineligible” to vote on the resolution to award the contract.

Apparently, Flavell had to apply “a little fatherly arm-twisting” to convince his daughter to accept the contract. The disclosure document presents this as if it were charming rather than an admission of nepotism. In fact, as it appears in the section titled “False allegations”, it is clear that the AAI board still don’t see anything wrong with the entire episode.

The case of the $6,000

In 2017, AAI commissioned Indian journalist Rustam Singh to produce a hard-copy magazine called Secular World for $6,000. It was not produced with sales or profit in mind, but rather so areas with poor or zero internet coverage could still stay updated on secular and atheist matters.

The people who hijacked the board removed the contract from Singh without informing him. In a series of tweets last month, Affiliates Director John Richards reluctantly admitted he took the job “on the same terms” and that it did not go to tender. Richards therefore became the first director in AAI history to take money from the organization. This also breaches the prohibition on self-dealing transactions mentioned above.

The AG’s office immediately snapped into action and completely revoked their charity status.

Richards claimed that Singh “did a poor job” and that $6,000 was “too much to pay” an “Indian” to do the work. Richards also confirmed that AAI was in a financial crisis and could not afford to pay Singh. Without citing any sources, Richards went on to claim that $6,000 was “double the average wage” in India at the time.

Clearly Richards was not expecting Singh to see any of these comments. However, he did and responded angrily to all of them. Richards then posted a humiliating backpedal claiming he and Singh were “kindred spirits.”

The case of the fraudulent donations

The header on the Atheist Alliance International (AAI) Facebook page advertises that donations are tax-deductible. However, in 2021, the Attorney General (AG) of California suspended their charitable status as they had not submitted any accounts since 2016. AAI claims that this failure does not count as financial mismanagement. In a more honest moment, Bill Flavell, current secretary of AAI, referred to this as “the board’s cock-up… that had persisted for years”

David Orenstein, then AAI president, wrote a panicked letter in May 2022 begging the AG to “lift the suspended status.” The AG’s office immediately snapped into action and completely revoked their charity status. This means that it is illegal for AAI to solicit donations as tax-deductible under California law.

Any reinstatement of charitable status will depend on explaining “why the organization failed to comply with… requirements”. This is something everyone else would also like to know and which should appear in any ostensible Disclosure Document.

Anyone voting in that EGM will be basing their decisions on false information.

The document admits that no accounts were filed with the AG but that accounts were filed with the U.S. federal tax authority (IRS). This is also a legal requirement. However, they only filed one form with the IRS in the last five years, and that contains a number of errors. For example, they claim that no “significant changes” were made to their governing documents. In fact, the by-laws were completely rewritten to the board’s advantage.

The board response

AAI has announced an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) for 15 January 2023 “to address these issues.” However, only current members and affiliates are allowed to attend and vote. In other words, to question the authority of the organization, you must first accept the authority of the organization. At best, given the context, this is negligent and incompetent. And worst, it is a deliberate attempt to keep any dissenting voices outside the putative remedial process. 

The stated purpose of the disclosure document is to ensure the EGM attendees are in full possession of the facts. Unfortunately, it fails to disclose some key details. The board of AAI itself admits that it contains inaccuracies and that they need to publish “qualifications”. As of January 2, no “qualifications” have been published and questions by members have “received no reply.” Accordingly, anyone voting in that EGM will be basing their decisions on false information.

AAI would like the EGM to sign off on a resolution that “errors have been made” but there should be no consequences. They have rigged both the attendance at the EGM and the information available to prospective attendees to maximize the possibility of this outcome. For five years, every move the board has made to obviate their responsibility has propelled them further and further away from legitimacy.

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Barry Purcell lives in Ireland and writes about religion, philosophy, psychology, politics and language for a variety of paper and online publications. He has been involved in campaigns to counteract the...