Questions raised about Sting fundraiser

Published July 1, 2002

As the Battle of Malibu was being waged on the West Coast, some of the biggest stars of the entertainment industry headed East and played out another episode of environmental activist scandal.

Rock star Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, hosted what was billed as “the biggest environmental fundraising event in the world” on April 13 in world-famous Carnegie Hall. Joining Sting in heavily anticipated musical performances were Elton John, James Taylor (unrelated to your Managing Editor), Wynonna Judd, and Smokey Robinson.

Elton John and Sting shared both good times and a single dressing room backstage. Booze was freely served in multiple dressing rooms while the entertainers waited to perform. Chelsea Clinton rubbed elbows with Ron Perelman. Trudie Styler, reveling in the money and acclaim she and Sting were harvesting, was seen downing multiple glasses of champagne and hanging out with Ms. Clinton.

As is so often the case with celebrity fundraisers, Sting and his buddies “donated” to the cause their inestimable musical talents, while the general public was asked to donate with their less-than-Sting-sized pocketbooks.

Rainforest fraud

The beneficiary of the Sting fundraiser was the Rainforest Foundation, on whose board of directors the rock star and his wife serve. Watchdog groups have raised some disturbing red flags regarding the Foundation’s distributions and creative accounting. Charity watchdog groups recommend charities spend at least 60 percent of their revenues directly on their asserted causes—a seemingly reasonable standard many charities surpass with ease. (The Heartland Institute, publisher of Environment & Climate News, devoted 92 percent of revenues to its mission in 2000.) Nevertheless, the Rainforest Foundation’s financial filing with the New York State Attorney General reports the foundation gave a paltry 22 percent of its revenues to environmental causes in 1999, the most recent year for which it has filed. Still more startling, of the $1.6 million in box office revenues collected for “the biggest environmental fundraising event in the world,” only $57,000 ever made it into the coffers of the Rainforest Foundation. And then, of course, 22 percent of $57,000 is less than $13,000.

When watchdog groups attempted to contact Sting for comment on what some are now calling “the biggest environmental farce in the world,” Sting’s representatives directed all calls to the Rainforest Foundation, which predictably said it was not yet prepared to interpret the numbers for the public.

The fact that virtually all of the paying-public’s money was being diverted away from the environment seemed of little bother to the famous, and famously activist, celebrities in attendance.

With watchdog groups finally beginning to examine the questionable practices of activist fundraisers, it may only be a matter of time before the public turns a deaf ear to the self-enriching pleas of celebrity activists.