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AIDS Agencies Frustrated Over TV Fund-Raiser

August 15, 1993|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WESTSIDE — It sounded like a great idea: a televised auction of celebrity hand-me-downs and other goodies to raise money for AIDS agencies that are too small to pull off major events alone.

Instead, the April 4 cable telethon has become a bad soap opera, with Westside charities wondering why they got none of the $240,000 raised and upset that auction organizers continued using their names to promote more AIDS fund-raisers.

While no one is charging the telethon organizers with wrongdoing, some charities have pulled away from the group, run by respected gay activist and former West Hollywood Mayor Steve Schulte, and demanded an account of where the money went. One telethon board member resigned last month after seeing a preliminary financial report on the Cable AIDS Auction Block, and the group faces a possible legal tangle with a disgruntled helper over wages the group says he never earned.

"There are a lot of angry people for a variety of reasons," said John Maceri, whose Homestead Hospice and Shelter group was one of the 30 AIDS agencies that hoped to share auction proceeds. "The event happened in April. It is now August. There should have been an accounting by now. . . . If, in fact, it was disastrous, they should have gotten everyone together and told us."

The 12-hour telethon, more than a year in planning, actually lost money, according to a report by Schulte's group, the AIDS Network Foundation. The group raised $167,000 in contributions before the auction, but failed with on-air bidding, drawing only $62,472 for items ranging from artworks and restaurant dinners to a "Star Trek" phaser gun. The event was unable to cover reported costs--mostly salaries--of $318,267, leaving it with a $78,000 shortfall, according to the report filed with the Los Angeles City Social Service Department.

That outcome prompted the resignation of telethon board member William J. Rosendahl, a senior vice president of Century Communications Corp. who helped get other cable executives to back the event. The telethon was carried on more than 50 cable systems throughout Southern California.

"The good news was AIDS awareness," Rosendahl said of the telethon, which featured one-minute video profiles of the AIDS charities. "The bad news was no money went to the charities, and I ask myself why."

Schulte, who is also a UCLA graduate student, said the event was a flop, but insisted it was an innocent flop.

"It was a great, elaborate first-time event that was underbudgeted and didn't raise money," he said last week, adding that the foundation planned to continue operating to cover the auction debt and to get at least $1,000 to each of the charities.

"It really was an intention to do good. It was an act of love," Schulte said. "There was no bad intention anywhere."

The $185,678 paid to the foundation's staff--Schulte made about $30,000 as executive director--was more than twice the amount originally planned, according to the group's financial filings. Part of the reason, Schulte said, were delays that dragged the event from November to April.

The staff of office hands, fund-raisers, production consultants and others included two of Schulte's cousins and a brother-in-law, who combined earned a total of about $20,000, according to the group's accountant. The group's executive producer made about $27,000, but only one other staffer was paid more than $20,000, the accountant said. Some staffers and consultants still have not been paid all that was owed them because the event brought in so little money.

"Nobody got rich," Schulte said. "This was a labor-intensive event."

Though sales were slow, the foundation initially labeled the auction a success, promising checks to agencies by early May. But Schulte said it took weeks longer to add up unexpected expenses and receive payment for charged items, many of which did not come through. By the end, a projected $100,000 gain had turned into a $78,000 loss.

The AIDS-charity directors, who are used to the hit-or-miss world of fund raising, said they are not angry the event failed them. "All of us in AIDS fund raising know that you throw parties that no one comes to," said Ginny Foat, executive director of Caring for Babies with AIDS. More bothersome, the activists say, is that they still have not been told what happened.

*

Foat and other agency heads said they were upset that the names of their organizations were being advertised as beneficiaries of an Aug. 8 comedy benefit although they had not been asked to participate. Some of them learned of the event when they received postcards about it. Some of the agencies told the foundation to take their names off the list, and the event was postponed, possibly until September. By Thursday, eight groups had agreed to take part, but others were drafting a letter asking to be counted out.

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