Occupy Wall Street's Half-Million-Dollar Headache

Occupy Wall Street has close to $500,000 in the bank, and those in charge of managing the donations have found that consensus process and anarchist principles don't make for the most efficient financial governance.

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Occupy Wall Street has taken in close to $500,000 -- $483,663, to be exact -- and those in charge of managing all that money have found that consensus process and anarchist principles don't make for the most efficient financial governance. According to Bill Dobbs, a member of the media committee, as of Thursday, organization has spent $66,742 and a remaining balance of $416,921.* The New York Post reported on Sunday that the money that's been pouring in through donations online and at Zuccotti Park had started to lead to discontent among the occupiers, as factions within the encampment clamored for their fair share. But Dobbs explained to us, it's not that the group's financial committee is withholding that money or resisting participants' requests for it -- it's just trying to account for all its expenses and approve them via its own agreed-upon process, just like any large organization trying to administer a half-million-dollar budget.

The Post quoted an organizer of the Comfort working group (the subcommittee in charge of procuring clean clothes, sundries, and so on) who made a request from the finance group: "I was told to fill out paperwork. Paperwork! Are they the government now?" Dobbs explained to us that the paperwork was necessary in order to properly account for expenses. That quote, he said, "is a big clue" to the group's sense of responsibility. "Of course you have to fill out paperwork... that's the least that's owed to donors," he said. The group has registered as a 501(c)3, a member of its finance working group explained in an online budget discussion, and it's trying to figure out how to post its revenue and expense reports online. "I guess it's a question of whether to put them in categories or go all the way down to the receipt level," Dobbs said.

It's also a question of manpower, and that brings up a problem with Occupy Wall Street's fully egalitarian setup: In practice, even though all are welcome and respected at the camp, not all are welcome to handle the money. The finance committee requires background checks, according to the online discussion, which may be a good idea, as the New York Daily News points out the round-the-clock demonstration has become a haven for ex-cons and what it calls "takers." But the background checks mean delays in getting more members, and therefore delays on getting the work done of posting the finances online. Finance group member Johana wrote, "we understand the urgent need to get all records computerized but we are all busy with the frequent business within the park, thus creating more transactions to be recorded minute by minute, while trying to create a financial structure that is PERFECT and easily tracked and reported on in a transparent way ... Um, give us a minute?"

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the protesters had a balance of $483,663. In fact, that's the total they've taken in, not the balance.

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