Today (05/10/18), the Board of Directors of Christopher Street West (CSW) announced Chris Classen will step down from his role as board president. By unanimous vote and effective immediately, the unpaid position will be filled by CSW Board Member Estevan Montemayor.
The leadership change comes amid revelations from Wehoville.com this week regarding a commissioned fundraising contract between CSW and Classen’s longtime business partner Craig Bowers that appears to violate California state law.
The three-year contract entitles Bowers, a CSW Emeritus Board member, to collect 20 percent commission from all sponsorship revenue he raises to support the annual LA Pride parade and festival, which is produced by CSW. Bowers and Classen are partners in an event and marketing firm called Incluence, which is the sole contractor used by CSW to procure sponsors and talent for the event.
State law prohibits self-dealing transactions, or those in which nonprofit director(s) have a vested financial interest. And all commission-based charity fundraising is considered unethical per the standards set by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Council of Nonprofits.
It is not clear if the board changes confirm the organization’s belief that a legal and ethical violation has occurred or if an intervention was taken to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
A source told the Los Angeles Blade the city’s manager confirmed that no money from the city is used for commission payments to people enlisted in fundraising activities for the LA Pride parade/festival.
On the reasons behind Classen’s replacement by Montemayor as board president, the Board’s statement explained only that “Chris felt it was the right time to transition out of the President role, allowing a fresh start for both the Executive Director and CSW as a whole.” It is unclear whether and to what extent the stories this week concerning CSW’s contract with Bowers influenced the organization’s change in leadership.
Also a mystery is whether the contract between CSW and Bowers will continue.
The website for Incluence, the company owned by Bowers and Classen that retains the exclusive contract to fundraise for CSW, is now password-protected. The Wayback Machine Internet archive, however, reveals the site was publicly accessible as recently as April 24, 2018.
Classen will remain on the Board, CSW says, at least until his term ends in Oct. 2018. He will “transition his duties and share institutional knowledge” with Montemayor and incoming CSW Executive Director Madonna Cacciatore, whose tenure will begin July 1, 2018. The Board has not indicated whether Bowers will remain an Emeritus Board Member, but did praise, in a statement, his performance raising money to support this year’s event.
New CSW Board President Estevan Montemayor first joined CSW’s Board in Oct. 2017.
In his ‘day job,’ he is Director of Communications and External Affairs for Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu.
Montemayor has served in senior management positions for numerous political and advocacy campaigns and started his political career as a legislative asstant to LA Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa. From 2015-2017, he served as a member of the Public Safety Commission in the City of West Hollywood, where he’s lived over the past six years. He also managed the most reelection campaigns for West Hollywood City Council members Lindsey Horvath (November 2014 to April 2015) and John Heilman (April to June, 2015).
The Los Angles Blade is a media sponsor of LA Pride