AEG Owner Pulls Financial Support for Some Anti-LGBTQ Groups, But Still Donated $770,000 in 2016
Phil Anschutz had came under fire last year over charitable contributions, but new tax filing still show money paid to conservative organizations.
Just a year after AEG owner Phil Anschutz faced intense criticism for giving money to groups accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center of being anti-LGBTQ, new financial documents are creating another headache for the owner of Coachella and Los Angeles' Staples Center.
Recent tax filings from Anschutz’s foundation show $770,000 in donations and commitments made to at least seven groups that have been accused by gay rights organizations of making anti-LGBTQ statements in the past. The Anschutz Foundation has also made donations to conservative groups fighting pornography, labor unions and marijuana legalization.
Those contributions make up less than 1 percent of Anschutz’s $63.7 million in total charitable donations and $16.7 million pledged in 2016, which was made across about 900 donations ranging from $1,000 to $2 million to about 800 different groups, mostly in Colorado and Oklahoma. The vast majority of the donations were given to non-political charities -- groups like the Boys and Girls Club, the American Museum of Western Art, Doctors Without Borders and a number of homeless shelters and domestic-violence prevention programs.
“One year ago we stated publicly that we unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We stand by those words and reaffirm the commitment we made at that time that The Anschutz Foundation would not knowingly fund any organization that would support anti-LGBTQ initiatives,” an Anschutz attorney told Billboard in a statement. "Over the past year, the Foundation has stopped funding certain organizations after it was brought to our attention that some of their activities were inconsistent with our values. This is an ongoing process in which we continue to investigate the organizations that we support, as some of these groups may have initiatives that extend beyond the scope of the objectives sought by the Foundation in supporting them."
Billboard has obtained a tax return for The Anschutz Foundation and conducted its own independent analysis of the group’s charitable donations for 2016. This return covers those groups the foundation funded before last year's revelation that Anschutz had contributed to three anti-LGBTQ groups between 2010 and 2013 -- $110,000 for the Alliance Defending Freedom, $50,000 to the National Christian Foundation and $30,000 to the Family Research Council. He said at the time that accusations that he was homophobic were "fake news" and "garbage," declaring "I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation."
None of those groups received funding from the Anschutz Foundation in 2016, according to the new tax return, confirming Anschutz’s claim that he “immediately ceased all contributions” to those organizations once it came to his attention they supported anti-LGBTQ causes.
Anschutz did, however, make a $200,000 pledge in 2016 to Focus on the Family, an organization that opposes gay marriage and is considered anti-LGBTQ because of its opposition to protections against discrimination and anti-LGBTQ public statements, like a claim that same-sex couples are bad parents.
Anschutz also gave $305,000 to Colorado Christian University, a private college whose think tank encouraged students to boycott Beauty and the Beast because of an “exclusively gay moment” in the film, as well $50,000 to Dare to Share, a ministry run by anti-gay pastor Greg Stier. He’s also made donations to groups like the Federalist Society ($50,000), which oppose protections for LGBTQ individuals and published articles claiming "The 'First Trans Murder Of 2018' Was Not A Hate Crime" and "The Reported Spike In Anti-LGBT Homicides Is Fake News."
As well, Anschutz gave $100,000 to the Heritage Foundation, which opposes same-sex marriage; $25,000 to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which provides "religious freedom" bill templates to state legislatures allowing private businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ; and $40,000 to a Colorado Springs group calling themselves The Navigators, which preaches Christianity and has criticized gays and lesbians in the past.
Anschutz's foundation’s returns show support for other conservative causes as well: $75,000 to the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation; $20,000 to Enough is Enough, a group that wants to restrict youth access to pornography; and $15,000 to Denver’s Alternatives Pregnancy Center, which offers a procedure called "abortion pill reversal therapy."
In defense of Anschutz’s donations, his attorney said in a statement, "On occasion, it has been brought to our attention that certain groups previously supported by the Foundation may have policies or practices relating to the LGBTQ community that could be of concern. In those situations, we carefully assess the concerns to determine if in fact any organization we have supported is taking positions or practicing policies that are intolerant of, or discriminatory toward, the LGBTQ community. If we find problematic activities, we first look to work with those organizations to effectuate positive change if we perceive they are open to hearing and responding to our feedback. Ultimately, if these efforts prove unsatisfactory, we will withdraw further support from those groups.”
Anschutz’s contributions also went to support other conservative causes. In 2016, his foundation spent $210,000 on a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, that educates “the public about the harms of marijuana legalization and commercialization.”
Earlier this year, Coachella announced that weed would not be allowed into the festival, despite a new law in California that decriminalized marijuana and allowed for the recreational sale and consumption of cannabis products. A representative for Goldenvoice who did not want to be identified told Billboard that it was the law’s newness -- and not Anschutz’s beliefs -- that led to the company keeping its pot ban in place as concert organizers navigate the state’s new regulatory framework, which still bans public consumption.
While the Anschutz Foundation does support conservative think tanks like American Enterprise Institute, the vast majority of the money handed out goes to cultural institutions like the Colorado Symphony, women’s shelters and domestic violence prevention programs, children’s health care and learning initiatives, outdoor conservation efforts and groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Gary Sinise Foundation, which helps America’s veterans. In fact, 36 percent of the money the foundation spent in 2016 went to different academic and research-driven programs at the University of Colorado and many of the big-ticket items went to charities without a political bent, such as the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (which received $1.7 million), or public institutions like Denver Public Schools (which received $287,000).
Anschutz’s political donations have been a particularly stressful issue for his partners in the festival business. When Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett learned of the donations to anti-LGBTQ groups last year, he told a New Yorker reporter he thought the allegations were enough to sink the festival, which grossed $115 million in 2017.
"He'd better say, 'No fucking way,'" said Tollett. "No one wants to wake up to see a headline that says, 'Coachella owner anti-gay.'"
Tollett continued, saying he was alarmed by the "Boycott Coachella" hashtag and pressure on artists to pull out of the event online. "I was offended," Tollett said, adding he was worried the public would be confused about Anschutz's involvement in the annual two-weekend event. "I run the festival, but it’s rude to say that when you’re a partner with someone."
A source at Goldenvoice said despite the negative publicity, no artist has pulled out of an event because of Anschutz's donations.