Richard Dawkins sues Josh Timonen

Wow. Just wow.

I realize that I haven’t exactly been enamored of Richard Dawkins lately, at least not as much as I was, say, three or four years ago. Most of this came about gradually, although the final nail was driven into the proverbial coffin last fall, when Atheist Alliance International bestowed the Richard Dawkins Award to that quacktastic anti-vaccine and anti-science believer in woo and cancer quackery, Bill Maher, an atrocity that I likened to giving Jenny McCarthy an award for public health. Actually, the second to last nail was probably driven in back in May when Richard Dawkins proclaimed that he was “proud to have presented the [AAI] award to Bill Maher.” The true final nail was driven in at TAM8 in July, when in response to questioning by JREF President D.J. Grothe during an interview Richard Dawkins once again defended the choice of Bill Maher and publicly poo-pooed his demonstrably harmful anti-vaccine and anti-“Western” medicine views as not being particularly significant or relevant to that choice.

Game over, as far as I was concerned. Dawkins was toast, at least to me.

Even so, I find it sad to have learned this morning via ERV that Richard Dawkins is suing the forum moderator of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Josh Timonen, for nearly $1 million embezzled from the Foundation.

Apparently, if Dawkins’ complaint is accurate, these are the sorts of things that the embezzled funds were used for:

Timonen’s “significantly older” girlfriend, defendant Maureen Norton, allegedly used at least $100,000 of the charity’s money to upgrade her Sherman Oaks home before she put it on the market.

A recent real estate listing describes improvements such as a “custom backyard pool and spa area with a wonderful waterfall and glass block fire pit plus custom seating for the ultimate outdoor living and entertaining experience,” according to the complaint.

Dawkins claims Timonen made off with 92 percent of the money generated at the store in 3 years.

Timonen has responded. Although I find his denial self-serving, I do find it odd that there have been no arrests. After all, embezzlement is a criminal offense. If I ran a charitable organization and discovered that an employee had embezzled close to $1 million, I’d have called the police, not the lawyers. Something more than meets the eye appears to be going on here.

In any case, this makes me wonder: What is it about rationalist/skeptic groups that make them seemingly have such a hard time running their organizations well from a financial standpoint? After all, just a couple of months ago the Center for Inquiry (CFI) sent out letters desperately begging for more contributions. The reason was that CFI had one large benefactor whose yearly contribution funded approximately 20-25% of the yearly CFI budget. As clueless as I may be about finances, even I know that you don’t use such donations to run the operating expenses of an organization, because you can’t count on them from year to year and it’s too big a chunk. You use this money for special short-term projects and a rainy day fund. Not surprisingly, when this mysterious donor stopped donating earlier this year, suddently CFI was in deep doo-doo from a financial standpoint, prompting the desperate plea for donations and deep budget cuts. I realize that the down economy has played havoc with many nonprofit and charitable organizations, but these issues with skeptical organizations seem to go beyond just that. Or is this just a problem with nonprofits in general?