It’s the worst kept secret in the music industry. The billionaire owner of the LA Kings and Coachella and the massive AEG empire is a pretty right wing guy that spends a lot of money each year on conservative political groups.
News that AEG owner Phil Anschutz had given to several organizations linked to anti-LGBTQ causes surprised few in the music industry who had carefully watched the company, although many music fans expressed shock that the owner of Coachella could support organizations like the backwards Family Research Council.
So what’s the truth about Anschutz’s political views and what does it mean for Coachella and AEG? Below are five questions you were afraid to ask about the Anschutz/LGBT-kerfuffle.
Why Are We Talking About This?
The controversy seems to have been started by the news site Uproxx, who posted an article Thursday titled “Coachella Is Apparently Owned By An Anti-Gay, Climate Change Denier.” Shared on social media 8,000 times, the story took Anschutz to task for “supporting anti-gay groups and climate change denial.”
The article pointed out Anschutz’s financial support for three right-wing organizations (we’ll get to that in more detail in a bit) and his bi-annual meeting with Republican super villains Charles Koch and David H. Koch.
The Uproxx article likely went viral because of its timing. The story dropped one day after Coachella announced its lineup and just hours after going on sale and selling out both weekends in the same day. That story was then picked up by Consequence of Sound which declared in its subhead “Philip Anschutz’s ties to the extreme right have surfaced in light of this week’s lineup announcement.”
From there the story went viral, with every outlet from Teen Vogue to Rolling Stone weighing in. Why was the media so fixated on a donation from three years ago instead of headliners Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead? Because Goldenvoice didn’t give the media anything else to talk about!
Goldenvoice announced the Coachella lineup with a one-sentence email and a jpeg of the lineup poster, leaving reporters to fill in the gaps with their own storyline and spin. Coming the first week off the new year, the media is a hungry like a pack of piranhas looking for blood. Goldenvoice’s press team didn’t give the press anything to snack on, so instead they launched a feeding frenzy on the owner.
Is Anschutz really anti-LGBT?
He says no. In response to the media blitz, he released a statement saying his foundation gives to hundreds of charities, and if he learns that any one group is backing discriminatory policies, he will withdraw support. He called the allegations “nothing more than fake news – it is all garbage.”
“I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We are fortunate to employ a wealth of diverse individuals throughout our family of companies, all of whom are important to us – the only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance; we do not tolerate discrimination in any form.”
That was followed by a second statement from AEG which seemed to blame the scandal on the company’s competitors.
“We are aware of recent attacks upon our owner, Mr. Philip Anschutz. These attempts to perpetuate and spread false news on a variety of topics are part of a long-running and coordinated attempt by our competitors to smear AEG and our many businesses, including our live music and facilities divisions. These attempts have failed before, and will fail again because actions speak louder than words and our track record demonstrates a strong commitment to both diversity and sustainability, two of our most critical core values.”
Uhhh……I reached out to AEG brass to see if they had evidence to back up their allegations that somehow their competitors (i.e. Live Nation) were to blame. I haven’t heard back yet. Is it just me or does someone seem really defensive?
If he’s not homophobic why he is being accused of funding hate groups?
Like I said before, Anschutz’s support for right-wing causes has been known for years. I have reported on Anschutz’s political donations in November, labeling him a “GOP bankroller.”
Does that mean he is anti-gay or seeks to push a legislative agenda that discriminates against the LGBTQ community?
Anschutz has given to a number of causes that have supported anti-LGBTQ initiatives. According to the Freedom for All Americans political action committee, Anschutz has been labeled an “enemy of equality” and made donations to groups that have pushed an anti-LGBTQ agenda. That includes:
- $110,000 to Alliance Defending Freedom, a 22-year-old group that “advocates for your right to freely live out your faith” and has been sending out pre-worded bills against LGBTQ individuals to state legislatures. The donations were made between 2011 and 2013.
- $50,000 to National Christian Foundation, which funds several groups that aggressively work to chip away at the equal rights of LGBTQ Americans. The donations were made between 2011 and 2013.
- $30,000 to Family Research Council, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “extremist group” and has fought same-sex marriage, hate crime laws, anti-bullying programs and sought the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The donations were made between 2011 and 2013.
Groups like One Colorado, the state’s leading advocacy organization for LGBTQ Coloradans and their families, and ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest online progressive advocacy organization, have condemned Anschutz’s donations to groups like Alliance Defending Freedom.
So does he support anti-LGBT groups or not?
Anschutz’s defense is that his foundation gives to hundreds of charities, and if he learns that any one group is backing discriminatory policies, he will withdraw support.
“Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives,” he said in a statement. “And when it has come to my attention or the attention of The Anschutz Foundation that certain organizations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.”
Is this an acceptable explanation? I’ll leave that up to you. Does anyone know what is in Anschutz’s heart? Ofcourse not. If he says he unequivocally supports gay rights, should we believe him? Probably.
But….should we let Anschutz completely off the hook. Yes he has given millions to dozens of charities and foundations, but to say he didn’t realize that groups like Family Research Council were anti-LGBTQ is a little hard to swallow. I can accept it if he says he’s not homophobic, but it certainly seems like he is trying to have it both ways here.
Is AEG an anti-LGBT company?
Absolutely not. I’ve worked with hundreds of people at AEG for over a decade and I have never heard anyone make an anti-gay statement. AEG is a company that celebrates diversity. There are plenty of gay individuals who work for AEG’s many companies and divisions and the company has always had an inclusive, accepting environment.
Mine is obviously a subjective opinion, but I stand by it.
“Throughout our 20 year history, AEG and AEG Live have worked hard to create a supportive and inclusive environment that respects the rights of all employees, artists and fans, as well as promoting a philosophy of sustainability throughout the world,” company officials said in a statement. “We believe that true creativity is best expressed in an environment where everyone has the right to say what they believe in an unbiased and uncensored environment.”
Is Anschutz a liability for AEG? Maybe. Their competitor Live Nation has made strident gains for civil rights after CEO Michael Rapino took a stand for LGBT rights, telling Amplify he supported LN-touring artists that wanted to boycott North Carolina because of the state’s “bathroom law.”
Will this Anschutz thing eventually blow over? I’m not so sure. Information on Anschutz’s political beliefs is not hard to find. While I doubt this media storm will affect Coachella ticket sales or stop people from attending AEG events, it’s an issue that will likely keep festering. Anschutz’s statement disavowing discrimination was an important first step, but he might have to spend more of 2017 explaining his political beliefs, especially if he’s in the business of selling pop culture en masse.