Christopher Street West (CSW) has enlisted Craig Bowers to raise money for the organization’s annual L.A. Pride parade and festival in an exclusive three-year contract that, according to a report in Wehoville.com, appears to violate state law and may also constitute a conflict of interest.
Bowers—who is both a long-time business partner of CSW Chair Chris Classen and a member of the organization’s Emeritus Board— will allegedly earn a 20 percent commission on all sponsorship revenue, per the terms of his contract. From this year’s event in West Hollywood, which is slated for June 9 and 10, Bowers stands to earn a sum in the low six-figures.
At issue is Bowers’ continued business partnership with Classen in an events and marketing firm called Incluence, which is also the sole contractor used by CSW to procure sponsors and elicit talent for the L.A. Pride Parade and Festival. The commissioned fundraising aspect of this arrangement appears to violate California state law, which prohibits “self-dealing” transactions—defined as those in which one or more of a nonprofit’s directors has a vested financial interest, an analysis by the site concludes.
Questions have also been raised concerning Bowers’ membership with CSW’s Emeritus Board, a “lifetime advisory position” that, considering his financial stake in the organization’s fundraising activities, may constitute a conflict of interest. Additionally, it seems Bowers has not registered with the California Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts—a requirement for both nonprofit organizations and individuals paid to raise money on their behalf.
Legal questions aside, the ethical standards set by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Council of Nonprofits both explicitly bar organizations from offering commission payments for fundraising. CSW is further beset by its long history of scandals that have involved ethical breaches, strained relations with the local LGBTQ community, and questionable financial dealings.
Asked for comment, Classen told WEHOville that his business partnership with Bowers in Incluence has not changed. On the threat of a possible lawsuit, he said: “I’m not a nonprofit attorney.”
Classen and Bowers were last scrutinized for their handling of the 2016 L.A. Pride Festival, which they turned into what was popularly called the “gay Coachella.” Ticket prices were hiked while programming for transgender people and lesbians was slashed (and partially restored)—prompting protests and boycotts that are believed to account, at least in part, for costing CSW more than $400,000 in lost revenue.
In spite of the opprobrium directed at the organization and its leadership, tax records show CSW earned $827,710 in “gifts, grants, and contributions” that year. This would entitle Bowers to a potential $165,000 payout.
The City of West Hollywood is not a sponsor of L.A. Pride or CSW, though it does incur expenses on behalf of the organization: hundreds of thousands of dollars in permit fees, security and sanitation fees are waived.
No action or investigation has been undertaken by West Hollywood’s City Manager or the City Council as a result of the WeHoville story, according to sources. West Hollywood City Council members John Duran and John D’Amico have since 2013 been tasked with examining CSW issues as they arise.
Larry Block, a business owner and former candidate for West Hollywood City Council posted a comment on Wehoville: “Sadly I have to ask if any of the city council members are aware of this contract and events that led up to this article exposing the ripoff.”
CSW, when asked for comment and whether CSW’s board was required to authorize the contract, effectively had no comment, telling Los Angeles Blade that “more information will be revealed at a later date.”
Following this year’s Pride events, many hope the inauguration of installation of CSW Executive Director Madonna Cacciatore on July 1, 2018 will lead to changes in the organization. Cacciatore becomes CSW’s first paid, full-time Executive Director.
Publisher note: Los Angeles Blade is a 2018 sponsoring newspaper of LA Pride.