Monday, December 20, 2010

BAR Fdtn: $10M in Assets, 
SF Ballet Top Grant Recipient

The Bob A. Ross Foundation is a major San Francisco-based gay philanthropy, that disburses a robust 6-figures in grant dollars annually to dozens of nonprofits. BARF was founded in 2001, is named after the late founder of the Bay Area Reporter, who died in 2003, and is controlled by attorney Thomas E. Horn, who is also the publisher of the BAR.

I think it's beneficial to have BARF making large donations to local charities, but I also am concerned that with it giving out money to so many orgs, and other groups wishing to receive a grant, that there's a chilling effect. What nonprofit would want to publicly criticize the city's leading gay paper, knowing the publisher also wears a philanthropic hat?

The BAR too often doesn't disclose donations from BARF to an organization when the paper reports on the organization. Last week I sent off a few questions to the editor Cynthia Laird, just about disclosure concerns. I asked her if the BAR should disclose the donations in every story where it's pertinent, or maybe do a yearly disclosure to readers, say, when the newest IRS 990 for BARF is available for public inspection.

I pointed out to Cynthia that the current BAR contains a story about the Horizons Foundation, which gets BARF money, and the disclosure was lacking. What were her thoughts?

Am forwarding your email to our general manager.

Huh? No idea why she was passing the buck. I emailed the BAR general manager, then this reply arrived from Cynthia, that was attributed to the publisher:

The Bay Area Reporter and the Bob Ross Foundation are totally separate and distinct legal entities. The two have a separate board of directors and no officers in common. Legally, a nonprofit owner cannot interfere in the day-to-day operations of a for-profit enterprise.

Therefore, it is not the policy of the Bob Ross Foundation to influence editorial policy.

None of my disclosure questions were addressed by the editor, and the statement doesn't acknowledge that the president and CEO of BARF is also the BAR publisher.

I chose to examine the four most recent IRS 990 filings of BARF because the assets were in the $10 million range.

The BARF gave out $409,950 in 2006, $495,700 during 2007, $377,500 in 2008 and $322,250 for 2009, for a four-year total of $1,605,400.

Here's the list of the top grantees and their four-year cumulative amounts:

1. SF Ballet

2. AIDS Emergency Fund

3. Frameline

4. Larkin Street Youth Services

5. SF Arts Commission

6. Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation

7. Face to Face (Sonoma County food bank.)

8. Horizons Foundation

9. AIDS Legal Referral Panel

10. Meals on Wheels

11. Open House (Gay senior housing project.)

12. ACLU

13. Glide Memorial Methodist Church

14. Alliance Franciase

15. Tenderloin Health

Dozens of other gay, AIDS services orgs and arts institutions in San Francisco also shared in the BARF's largess including Project Inform, Positive Resource Center, Transgender Law Center, Maitri Compassionate Care, LYRIC, Chanticleer, UCSF AIDS Health Project, New Conservatory Theatre, Gay Straight Alliance Network, and the SF Gay Men's Chorus.

I believe BAR readers deserve a full explanation about the publisher's relationship with the BARF, and that there should be disclosure in the paper when it covers agencies that have received funding from the foundation. Let the gay sunshine in!

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