Readers of this column know we frequently look into the finances of charitable foundations run by celebrities.
The Rainforest Foundation, closely associated with Sting and his humanitarian cause-driven wife Trudie Styler, is one of our favorites. It’s squeaky clean and does an enormous amount of good in Third World countries.
That’s why today’s poorly reported piece in The New York Post was such a shock. The writer got it wrong, and left no chance for rebuttal. It was a smear, a hit and run. So let’s correct it.
The gist of the Post story — which was designed to embarrass Sting and Styler on the eve of the biannual Rainforest concert and fundraising dinner — was that the $2.7 million in gross receipts collected by the U.S. fund from the last concert and dinner should have gone directly to distribution.
This doesn’t even make sense. It would kill any long term objectives of the foundation. The concerts, Styler points out, are not like “Live Aid,” a one-time event, or the 9/11 Concert for New York. In those instances, the money is collected and immediately distributed.
“The Rainforest Foundation is celebrating its 20th year,” says Styler. “We wouldn’t still be in business or have given out millions of dollars over the years if we’d spent everything we made immediately after it came in.”
Several things the Post article did not comprehend properly: there is an overall Rainforest Foundation Fund that has satellite branches in the U.S., Norway and Great Britain.
Last year, the Rainforest Foundation Fund, Inc, the parent group, gave away $887,000 to a variety of needy groups in Africa and South America.
It’s the U.S. foundation that puts on the Carnegie Hall concerts. That money is then sent to the main foundation after minimal expenses for the U.S. office. Reporter Isabel Vincent didn’t report this at all.
Total revenue in 2006 for the U.S. office was $672,013; Of that, $376, 177 — or 55 percent — went to Rainforest programs.
Vincent also reported that a receptionist at the Foundation’s office told her “the entire staff was out at a film festival.”
Well, the entire staff comprises four people including the receptionist, the director, the program development director, and the accountant. Three of the four people were there when Vincent arrived without an appointment. (She’d been offered one but declined.) Both Michelle Petri and Athos Gontijo were present and saw Vincent.
The current director, Christine Halverson, was out, but not at the movies, as is suggested. She was moderating a panel on Indigenous Filmmakers from Brazil at the United Nations, translating Portuguese to English.
These four people, by the way, receive a total salary of $177,000. Halverson receives $68,500 a year. Compare that with, say, Joel Peresman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He takes home $350,000 — and I don’t think he knows Portugese.
Ironically, on Tuesday Sting and The Police — separate from the Foundation — are set to make a stunning presentation to Mayor Michael Bloomberg regarding New York City and the environment. The Police have been exploring a way to make an environmental gift for months.