In recent weeks, Occupy Denver's procedure for handling donations has arisen as one of the group's most popular and controversial general assembly topics. Two weeks ago, the issue led in part to the suspension of the group's first member. Although donations are separated by entity -- the Thunderdome and then Occupy Denver as a whole -- funds have occasionally gone missing and frequently created debate inside the ranks. With new standards, however, the group hopes to rectify this.
Attempts to streamline the donation process began with an official split between the funds used for the Thunderdome, the group's kitchen tent, and those allotted for the remainder of the larger entity. While the two support each other, donors must make clear which group they are donating to when they hand over cash. Money donated to the kitchen is generally intended for the purchase of food and other kitchen materials, although it occasionally makes its way to bail funds, while the use of funds donated to Occupy Denver in general requires a vote of the general assembly.
Until very recently, the only way to make a monetary donation to either entity was with cash or money order. The occupation maintains a mailing address (1550 Larimer St., Box 224, Denver, CO 80202), and representatives are constantly onsite to take in money in an official capacity. With the new inclusion of a PayPal account through the group's website, however, donations -- and anonymous ones, in particular -- are now made easier.
Last week, they also became easier to deal with. The group's original donation process depended in large part upon longtime volunteers collecting the money and making sure it got to the right hands -- but from there, the situation was less clear. Last week, the general assembly, as close to a representative democracy as the group veers, voted on a handful of guidelines dedicated to promoting more accountability in this process. First up was the election of a finance committee.
"It means a lot to be included on the treasury committee," says Dwayne Hudson, a committee member and recent Westword profile subject. "We nominated people based on honesty and trustworthiness, as well as financial knowledge and other skills like accounting and math. We knew it was time to clean up the way we managed our funds and budget."
The members of the finance committee act as caretakers and accountants for the group's funds. As of October 27, the latest policy on collecting monetary donations requires that three occupiers -- a member of the GA, a representative of the finance committee and a member of one other committee -- count the money to confirm the total. Once collected and counted, donations are recorded on an intake slip for increased transparency through consistent records. After this, the results are also recorded electronically.
The money itself is kept in a safe off-site. In order to use it, especially for large-scale expenditures, the decision must pass a majority vote at the group's 7 p.m. general assembly, the largest of the day because it occurs after most people leave work.
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"Transparency is our main focus throughout everything the committee does," Hudson says. "We want what's best for the group."
In the meantime, the Thunderdome maintains its own finances (and its own Facebook page) separate from Occupy Denver's. Recent expenditure proposals brought in front of the larger group include an opportunity to purchase JakPaks, a wearable combination of both a tent and a sleeping bag, at the same discount offered to Occupy Seattle, but that idea has since been tabled.
"We're very careful about how we spend our money, but we'll need to use it more as the weather continues on like this," says Mel Van Nice, an occupation medic profiled earlier today. "The donations help us make it out here."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: ACLU investigates constitutionality and safety of police action."