C.J. Pearson, only 21 years old, has already made a name for himself in the public arena. He gained widespread attention as a preteen when a video of him criticizing Barack Obama went viral. Since then, he has established himself as an influential figure in the right-wing activist-pundit community. With a significant following of hundreds of thousands of fans, he now holds a prominent position at the conservative content platform PragerU.
Pearson has his sights set on a new goal: becoming a Georgia state lawmaker.
The Augusta native is running as a candidate in a special primary election on Tuesday to fill a vacancy in a safely Republican state House district just outside his hometown. Despite facing two other strong Republican contenders in the primary, Pearson is garnering attention from major platforms like Fox News—and he is exuding his trademark boldness.
However, there is a specific aspect of Pearson’s history that he may prefer to evade discussing – one that brings into question his suitability for holding public office.
In a heartfelt message, he expressed his belief that this presents a chance for conservatives to demonstrate their unwavering support for the black community, capitalism, and the remarkable endeavors undertaken by black entrepreneurs.
The fundraising campaign successfully generated approximately $170,000 within a short span of a few days. Pearson, in collaboration with the Georgia Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, will distribute these funds as grants to businesses in need.
According to the nonprofit’s annual federal tax filings, it is still unclear how much of the money was actually directed towards businesses that could have potentially benefited from the funds, even after almost four years.
It is evident that the nonprofit organization has not utilized a significant portion of the funds raised through the initial GoFundMe campaign in 2020.
The nonprofit’s publicly available 990 tax forms, which include Pearson as a member of the board of directors, reveal that only $10,000 was awarded to businesses in the six months following the riots.
One business in particular stands out – an Atlanta beauty salon. The owner of the salon was captured in a photograph receiving an oversized check from Pearson. The Atlanta Journal Constitution featured a glowing article about this event.
In 2021 and 2022, GAME distributed a total of $46,000 in grants. However, unlike in 2020, the recipient names and amounts were not specified in the forms. This lack of information makes it impossible to determine who received the funds and in what amounts. Nonprofits are only required to disclose details for grants exceeding $5,000, so it is plausible that GAME issued several smaller grants that fell below this reporting threshold.
According to a 2020 article by the Journal Constitution, Pearson expressed his contentment in raising $30,000. He believed that this amount could potentially assist in covering insurance deductibles for a significant number of individuals.
Pearson exceeded their fundraising goal by nearly six times the amount they had hoped for. However, despite the tremendous success of their GoFundMe campaign, the nonprofit organization has stated that only one-third of the funds will be allocated towards the intended purpose. As of 2023, with the recovery efforts from the 2020 unrest mostly behind them, the nonprofit still has $146,000 in unused cash.
The Daily Beast reached out to Pearson campaign’s representative and the chairman and treasurer of the nonprofit for comment on the GoFundMe effort, but they did not respond to the emailed questions.
Pearson’s notoriety may stem from his prodigious background and outspoken conservative viewpoints, but his management of the GoFundMe campaign offers a unique insight into his ability to leverage resources and make significant choices.
The way Pearson behaves in this episode could be a crucial factor for voters to consider when evaluating his potential as a member of the Georgia legislature.
In recent years, Pearson has actively engaged in contentious decisions, including antagonizing influential Georgia Republicans whom he considers to be lacking in radicalism. Governor Brian Kemp has been a primary focus of his criticism, as Kemp faced backlash from the GOP base for not overturning Trump’s loss in Georgia during the 2020 election.
One of the adversaries that emerged was Pearson. In November 2020, Pearson became a part of a lawsuit, along with “Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell, aimed at overturning Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia. Pearson also took on the role of managing the gubernatorial campaign of Vernon Jones, a state representative who challenged Kemp with a strong MAGA influence, in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections.
However, Governor Kemp had the final say. Jones’ campaign was brief, and the candidate he supported, former Senator David Perdue, experienced a humiliating defeat at the hands of Kemp in the primary election.
The young MAGA influencer fully embraces the notion that he would stir up trouble in the state capitol if he were to win the election. However, Pearson’s philanthropic endeavors in 2020 might present a different facet of his activism, at least on paper.
When Pearson initiated the GoFundMe campaign in June 2020 to support Black-owned businesses, he was already a prominent conservative commentator with a significant following. Leveraging his platform, he aimed to raise funds for individuals he believed were adversely affected by the violence attributed to “ANTIFA.”
In a recent statement, he expressed his commitment to supporting black-owned businesses affected by the recent incidents of rioting and looting across the country. He mentioned that he will be actively working over the next few days to identify these businesses and provide financial assistance to cover the costs of damages, renovations, and loss of business.
Pearson stated on his GoFundMe page that he will be collaborating with the Georgia Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, a registered 501c(3) non-profit organization, to accomplish this goal.
After the successful fundraising campaign in June, Pearson received a glowing write-up in the Journal Constitution. The article featured a photo of him presenting an oversized $10,000 check to Atlanta clothing boutique Wilbourn Sisters Designs.
“It really affected me on a personal level,” Pearson expressed to the paper. “Being only two hours away from Atlanta, I could identify with the places that were targeted and damaged.”
After successfully raising the funds, Pearson explained his decision to select Wilbourn Sisters Designs as the recipient of their first grant. He was drawn to their story when he saw the news coverage of the damage to their store amidst the chaos. Pearson felt a strong desire to assist and took action accordingly. The column highlighted how Wilbourn’s perseverance in the face of adversity caught the attention of various news outlets, ultimately leading to Pearson’s involvement and support.
According to the story, Pearson considers the GoFundMe campaign as a positive first step towards his goals.
However, the story didn’t end there.
The tax forms for GAME reveal that Pearson’s claim of making a significant impact through the GoFundMe was hardly accurate.
According to GAME’s 2020 tax form, the organization generated $174,500 in revenue, with the majority of it likely stemming from their successful digital fundraising campaign.
By the end of the year, the organization had accumulated over $182,000, despite the riots that had ravaged Atlanta and other major cities. Surprisingly, their assistance had only reached one business during this time.
The organization’s annual tax forms for 2021, 2022, and 2023 raise further questions about the utilization—or lack thereof—of the funds raised by Pearson.
In 2020, GAME chose to hold onto most of the funds raised instead of distributing them as grants.
According to its 2021 tax form, GAME reported providing $6,000 in grants to unspecified recipients. In the subsequent year, the organization stated that it distributed $41,000 to unspecified recipients. Surprisingly, on its 2023 tax form, GAME reported zero grant money given out, despite having over $146,000 in the bank.
Despite raising small amounts each year after 2020, such as $20,000 in 2022, it is evident that GAME has not effectively utilized the substantial sum it raised to aid victims of property damage. This lack of utilization is particularly concerning given that most businesses would have required those funds for recovery within a relatively short period of time.
In addition to other expenses, GAME did mention some vague expenditures. For example, in 2021, it allocated close to $30,000 for “marketing and PR,” without specifying the recipients of these funds. Similarly, in 2023, over $10,000 was dedicated to marketing and PR efforts.
In 2019, GAME had a relatively low profile, with limited activities. During that year, it managed to raise $20,000, spend $12,400, and maintain a balance of just over $14,000 in its bank account. It is worth noting that Pearson did not serve as a member of the board of directors until 2020.
From 2017 to 2019, the nonprofit organization did not provide any grants or allocate any funds for marketing or public relations. Instead, its main expenses were categorized as “business development” or “business networking.” However, in 2016, the organization did spend approximately $1,000 on marketing efforts.
The group’s website currently features an outdated phone number and prominently showcases a link for businesses to apply for the fund Pearson established.
Pearson made a false claim on his GoFundMe page, stating that GAME was a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. However, it should be noted that GAME is actually a 501c(6) organization.
Nonprofits organized in the c(3) category are typically driven by charitable purposes, whereas those in the c(6) category are more oriented towards commerce. It is important to note this distinction, as c(6) organizations are often formed to represent a collective of businesses or trade groups. Examples of c(6) entities include the American Medical Association, professional sports leagues, and chambers of commerce.
Contributions made to c(3) organizations are eligible for tax deductions, whereas contributions to c(6) organizations do not offer the same tax benefits.
Since 2017, it seems that the 2020 GoFundMe for Black businesses was not Pearson’s first or only digital fundraising endeavor. He has initiated at least four others, including two aimed at assisting families of deceased classmates and two designed to support his own political aspirations.
In 2018, Pearson managed to raise a staggering $10,325 by seeking support from conservatives to combat the messaging put forth by the young survivors of the tragic Parkland, Florida, mass shooting.
“I may not have the support of liberal teens like David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, who have Hollywood, CNN, and George Soros on their side, but I have the truth and the backing of hundreds of thousands of freedom-loving Americans,” he emphasized. “I deeply appreciate any support you can provide!”
In December 2020, Pearson took to GoFundMe once more, but this time, the fundraiser didn’t achieve the same level of success. The campaign, titled “I’m Tired Of Schools Teaching Kids To Hate America,” aimed to gather financial support for Pearson’s book, which would enlighten children of his age about the real truth of America. He mentioned that the funds would be utilized to cover the expenses associated with publishing the book and to help with any costs related to speaking engagements at universities or schools.