The protest movement Occupy Wall Street, in a nod to institutional realities, is interviewing for the most mundane of jobs: An accountant.
The OWS Accounting Working Group has interviewed four candidates to oversee its finances, members of the group told BuzzFeed Tuesday, and the accounting committee has scheduled a meeting tonight to discuss options. But the decision still has to get past the General Assembly, Occupy’s central decision-making body — and the hire might be a departure from the movement’s decentralized, anti-authoritarian style.
Occupy’s fundraising surged amid national attention last fall, bringing in more than half a million dollars. While donations have slowed to a trickle, the group says it still has about $230,000 on hand, as well as a new $100,000 bail fund for jailed protesters. OWS has also faced frequent squabbles over money — drummers at one point demanded $8,000 for their efforts, for instance. The accountant would be Occupy’s first employee, though they’ve brought on CPA’s for short-term pro bono jobs in the past. The group has so far interviewed four prospective bookkeepers, said a working group member, Haywood Carey.
Complying with tax law, of course, is one of the most basic nods to the existing power structure, and the move will be seen by some in Occupy’s ranks as at odds with its anti-establishment ethos. The Accounting group expects to face heavy resistance from OWS at large, which is at this point more of a loose collection of separate groups than a cohesive organization. But under the rules of the General Assembly, consensus must be reached in order for the accountant proposal to go through.
“It’s going to be a really hard sell,” said Justin Strekal, another member of the accounting group (which recently changed its name from Finance to avoid any association with big banks). “A lot of people believe that people will just donate their time. We’ve had a bookkeeper walk away, and we’d really like to have someone with accountability.”
Media team member Jeff Smith said the hire will “remove any issues of transparency by just kind of paying someone to do it, like an independent auditor in a way.” He said that the specifics of the position hadn’t been worked out — it might be a full-time bookkeeper plus a part-time accountant, for example. Accounting working group member Haywood Carey told BuzzFeed that the job would be more of a regular paid consulting post.
Occupy Wall Street manages its budget through a “fiscal sponsorship” agreement with the Alliance for Global Justice, a non-profit based in D.C. that sponsors a number of other activist groups and charities, and has its roots in the ideological struggles over Latin American politics in the 1980s. The alliance extends its tax-exempt 501(c)3 non profit status to Occupy; donations go to the Alliance, which takes a hefty seven-percent cut and then transfers the funds to OWS accounts.
Kathy Hoyt, National Co-Coordinator of the Alliance, said that OWS will not have to pay taxes under the current arrangement. However, the group will have to file reports every year with the IRS, and part of the reason that they’re looking into an accountant is because they’re not sure the Alliance is right about their tax status.
“That’s what their opinion is,” said Carey. “We’re just trying to make sure that they’re right.”
The proposal to hire an accountant is the latest sign that some in Occupy Wall Street have had enough with the organization’s disorganization. “We’ve seen how many problems money has caused in all other areas of OWS,” Smith said.
It also means that the group has to more formally shape its identity.
“There’s really not a precedent for an organization like this,” Strekal said.
The addition of an accountant may, however, be more of an academic exercise than anything else, since donations to Occupy Wall Street — which once tallied in the tens of thousands every day — have nearly stopped. Strekal said that on January 3rd, the movement pulled in $215; on the 4th, the donations amounted to $320.