AEG Owner Phil Anschutz Is Still Donating to Causes Promoting Anti-LGBTQ Beliefs

Shaun Clark/Getty Images
AEG owner Philip Anschutz prior to the Los Angeles Galaxy's MLS match against Toronto FC at the StubHub Center on Sept. 16, 2017 in Carson, Calif.

From December 2017 to November 2018, his charitable foundation donated $1,020,000 to two organizations that made public statements against LGBTQ people.

Three years after AEG owner Philip Anschutz was widely criticized for donating to organizations with anti-LGBTQ agendas, the global concert promoter whose $10 billion entertainment portfolio includes festivals like Coachella, Firefly and Electric Forest is still supporting organizations that have a history of discriminating against queer and transgender people, according to a recent tax return obtained by Billboard

According to The Anschutz Foundation's 2017 tax return, from December 2017 to November 2018, Anschutz donated $1,020,000 to two organizations that made public statements against LGBTQ people -- Colorado Christian University and the Sky Ranch Christian camping organization.    

Created in 1984, the foundation annually gives grants to hundreds of organizations with funds generated by a $1.2 billion endowment. The foundation has shifted its focus over the years: In 2001, it concentrated on “media projects and programs that promote traditional family values” and “the underprivileged.” Today the foundation’s attention is more broad, according to its website, covering everything from health, quality of life, education and development and “passing on values to form the foundation of a flourishing society.”

Compared to the previous year, Anschutz's charitable donations decreased about 5% overall and he did cease contributions to many controversial anti-LGBTQ organizations. During the 2017 fiscal year, he made 705 donations for $58.4 million dollars with 16 approved grants for $18.3 million in future payments. (In 2016, Anschutz donated $63.7 million and pledged $16.7 million in future pledges). The majority of his donations, as in years prior, were made to non-political charities, including the American Museum of Western Art, the Foundation for a Better Life, Boy Scouts of America and a number of homeless shelters, education centers and domestic violence prevention programs.

In 2019 and 2020, AEG was heralded by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the "best places to work for LGBTQ equality", and received a perfect 100 score on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index, receiving points for corporate policies protecting against LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, equality of health coverage for queer and transgender workers, internal training on LGBTQ best practices and more. AEG also owns and operates popular festivals including Coachella, Firefly, Stagecoach, Camp Flog Gnaw and Panorama, along with major music venues around the world, such as Los Angeles’ Staples Center, New York’s Barclays Center and London’s The O2.

“The Anschutz Foundation was formed 36 years ago with the purpose of improving the lives of individuals and strengthening communities by supporting organizations that focus on health and wellness, human services, youth development and education and improving quality of life for Americans," a spokesperson for The Anschutz Foundation told Billboard regarding Anschutz's recent donations. "The Foundation awards in excess of 500 grants annually totaling approximately $50 million dollars. Each grant application is evaluated against the Foundation’s giving guidelines and grants are made based on the specific intended use outlined in the grant proposals. Presently, less than 5% of the average annual grants awarded by the Foundation go to conservative or faith-based organizations. Today, faith-based organizations comprise approximately one-third of U.S. non-profits and are doing important and necessary work to strengthen communities around the country.”

Still, as a conservative Christian, Anschultz’s donations to causes that oppose LBGTQ liberties have raised eyebrows in recent years. Even if his money may not be put towards those agendas specifically, those financial contributions could undermine the creation of safe spaces for queer fans and artists at fesitvals like Coachella and Firefly, which both have queer headliners like Frank Ocean and Halsey along with many other LGBTQ artists taking to their stages in 2020.

Among the $18.3 million in approved grants from the 2017 fiscal year, Anschutz gave a $1,000,000 capital grant in February 2018 to Colorado Christian University, a private college in Lakewood, Colorado, for the purposes of building a new student center, according to a spokesperson for the Anschutz Foundation. The university has a troubled history with LGBTQ issues -- in 2014, the university requested an exemption from Title IX, specifically in its protections for transgender students. The university's 2019-2020 student handbook lists "same-sex romantic relationships, advocacy, defending, or practicing such relationships" as a probationary or suspension violation of their code of conduct that would be "likely to result in a minimum sanction of probation or suspension with additional conditions or alternative requirements on the first occurrence." Additionally, the university's conservative think-tank, the Centennial Institute, launched a campaign in 2017 to boycott Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast remake, due to what the film's director Bill Condon referred to as "a nice, exclusively gay moment" in the movie. The university is listed on Campus Pride's "Shame List" of the "absolute worst campuses for LGBTQ youth” in the United States.

Anschutz also donated $20,000 to Sky Ranch, a Christian camping organization based out of Dallas, as part of an "inspirational career program" to bring children of military personnel to a youth camp in Colorado, according to a spokesperson for the Anschutz Foundation. In their doctrinal statement, listed under the "Our Beliefs" section of their website, the organization lays out the belief "that God has established marriage as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman," that "all intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral and therefore sin" and that "all conduct with the intent to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender is immoral and therefore sin."

“The Foundation reviews grant applications based upon the specific purpose stated in the application," a spokesperson for The Anschutz Foundation tells Billboard. "Each grant application is evaluated against the Foundation’s giving guidelines. Given the number of donations given annually, the Foundation does not review the entire historical record relating to an applicant. The Foundation satisfied itself that the specific grants in question were not intended for anti-LGBTQ purposes.”

Anschutz is not the only leader in the touring industry who has supported conservative causes in the last five years. Greg Maffei, the CEO of Liberty Media who currently owns a 33 percent stake in concert promoter Live Nation, donated $250,000 to President Donald Trump's 2017 inauguration, and continued to regularly support the election campaigns of Republican senators as recently as 2019 according to the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s individual contributions database. Stan Kroenke, the owner of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, donated $1,000,000 dollars to the president's inauguration in 2017. 

When Anschutz's donations to anti-LGBTQ organizations first came to light in 2017, based on a tax filing from 2013, the business mogul made a rare public statement, where he said that both he and his foundation "immediately ceased all contributions" to groups who would "finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives." Anschutz's donations to many of those anti-LGBTQ groups were absent from his recent tax filings, including donations to organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center deemed hate groups, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council and other anti-LGBTQ organizations like Focus on the Family, the National Christian Foundation, the Heritage Foundation and the Navigators.

In 2018, Anschutz also donated $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, telling Billboard, "My gift to the Elton John Foundation is intended to emphasize that we support freedom of all people to live their lives peacefully, without interference from others.... Sexuality is among the most personal of issues, and it has never been my intent to weigh in on people’s private lives. I support the rights of all people and oppose discrimination and intolerance against the LGBTQ community." AEG is promoting John's three-year retirement tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road.

Anschutz did make a series of donations in the 2017 fiscal year, totaling $565,000, to six conservative think-tanks in Colorado, Oklahoma and Washington D.C., including the Independence Institute ($100,000), the Steamboat Institute ($35,000), the American Enterprise Institute ($225,000), the Leadership Program of the Rockies ($30,000), Philanthropy Roundtable ($150,000) and the now-defunct E Foundation for Oklahoma ($25,000). The president of the Independence Institute, Jon Caldara, accused the Denver Post in January 2020 of discontinuing his column due to his "insistence that there are only two sexes and my frustration that to be inclusive of the transgendered (even that word isn’t allowed) we must lose our right to free speech." Caldara later announced that he had taken a columnist position at the Colorado Springs Gazette, a news organization owned by Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group. The E Foundation's founder, former Oklahoma gubernatioral candidate Todd Lamb, said in 2018 that he supported legislation allowing religious-based adoption services to deny service to same-sex couples.

All six of these organizations are currently listed as associate or affiliate members of the State Policy Network (SPN), an organizational network of state-level think-tanks that help write and publicize conservative legislation. SPN has supported policy initiatives like opposing the Affordable Care Act, opposing public sector trade unions, limiting government spending and more. SPN is also a non-profit member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that writes and creates "model legislation" for conservative lawmakers to implement on a state and national level. ALEC has been accused by the Human Rights Campaign of having "a history of anti-gay propaganda." 

Anschutz also gave $355,000 to Smart Colorado, a Denver-based non-profit dedicated to "protecting the health, safety and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized." The group opposes the commercialization of marijuana in Colorado for fear that it will negatively affect youth in the state. As with past years, in 2020 Coachella will prohibit cannabis consumption and sales on festival grounds, even though California has decriminalized marijuana and allowed for its recreational sale and consumption throughout the state. 

A spokesperson for The Anschutz Foundation declined to comment on whether or not donations to these organizations continued following the fiscal year of 2017.


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.