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Donations drying up, Occupy Wall Street slows its spending

By Jason Kessler, CNN
updated 5:33 AM EST, Wed January 18, 2012
Occupy demonstrators rally on Martin Luther King Day outside the Federal Reserve in New York.
Occupy demonstrators rally on Martin Luther King Day outside the Federal Reserve in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Occupy Wall Street's general assembly approves partial spending freeze
  • More than $800,000 has been donated to Occupy Wall Street to date, it says
  • Donations have lagged since group was ousted from park, member says

(CNN) -- Occupy Wall Street is shifting some of its attention from the big banks to its own bank accounts.

After a drop in donations and disputes over expenses, Occupy Wall Street's general assembly, which makes major decisions for the group, approved a partial spending freeze on Saturday. Spending on housing, food and other items deemed crucial will continue.

"There's been a lot of disagreement lately about how things have been spent," said Pete Dutro, a member of Occupy Wall Street's accounting working group. He said Occupy Wall Street had recently strayed from its early frugality.

A list of expenditures posted on Occupy Wall Street's website shows the bulk of the group's outlays have gone toward everyday necessities, transportation and donations to other Occupy groups. But there have been less essential purchases, too.

In October, the arts and culture working group spent $3,000 on "supplies for puppets for Halloween." The tea and herbal medicine working group spent almost $2,500 on tea leaves, herbs and related equipment in November.

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More than $800,000 has been donated to Occupy Wall Street to date, and the group has about $170,000 available to spend, according to Haywood Carey, another member of the accounting working group. It also has more than $100,000 in the Alliance for Global Justice, a Washington-based nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status, and $100,000 set aside for bail in the event of member arrests.

Donations to the group have fallen significantly of late, organizers said.

Occupy Wall Street's money woes are largely the result of the group's November 15 eviction from Zuccotti Park, Carey said. Early that morning police conducted a surprise raid of the park, where demonstrators had been camped since September.

"With the loss of the park and the loss of a central visible place for the occupation, we lost a lot of momentum," Carey said.

The eviction led to a drop in media coverage of the protest, which had fueled donations to Occupy Wall Street via its website. "When we're out on the street and in the news, help and contributions and support increase," said Bill Dobbs, a press liaison for Occupy Wall Street.

In-kind donations to the group have fallen along with monetary ones.

When Occupy Wall Street was at Zuccotti Park, "grandmothers would bring roasted chicken, people would drop off produce from upstate, Ben from Ben & Jerry's would come and scoop ice cream for us," Carey said. "We now have to pay for a lot of our food."

The dislocation has increased costs in other ways. No longer centralized, the group must allocate more for transportation as its members transfer resources among various Occupy Wall Street outposts in New York. And whereas protesters used to sleep rent-free in tents in the park, the group spent $2,700 to house protesters in two churches for the past two weeks, Carey said.

In addition to paring its costs, Occupy Wall Street is weighing whether to step up its solicitation of donations, which has been minimal to date.

"Right now we need to figure out whether we want to become an active fundraising body," Carey said.

Even as they seek to bolster Occupy Wall Street's bank accounts, members say the group's finances are beside the point and that dwindling cash is not an indication of dwindling strength.

"We're not a movement about money, we're a movement about actions," Carey said. "Whether we have $1 or $1 million, we will continue to do what we have always done."

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