As seen in Longmont Ledger, February 20, 2011
Heaven Fest, the Christian music festival that played at Union Reservoir last summer will land somewhere “North of Denver” on July 31, but that’s about all that can be determined at this writing.
How many in our Front Range communities would be surprised to learn that in the festival’s first three events (2007-2009) Heaven Fest gave not one dime to local charities. Read that again then shake your head in wonderment.
Heaven Fest is a wholly owned subsidiary of Worship and the Word Movement, a religious charity that files 990s with the IRS. Much was made of this status in support of the permit application, but the facts belie the promises. WWM grossed over $1 million from 2007 to 2009 and donated a mere 2.13 percent, every penny of which went to support two orphanages in Central America.
Instead, 100 percent of the $47,029 donation was given to the Miami based “House of Refuge,” which ran orphanages in both Venezuela and Honduras. Interestingly, the Venezuelan government seized the property and shut down that orphanage in 2008, and in 2009, the founder and operator of both orphanages fled Honduras rather than face charges of child molestation and sexual misconduct.
Last year’s event at the reservoir grossed an estimated $1 million. Heaven Fest promised various amounts to various local charities — $50,000 to one, all parking fees to another – but in an August 10 article in the Times-Call under the banner “Stoked,” the organizers announced contributions totaling $46,000 of which $1,500 (3.3 percent) would benefit local charities with the rest going to entities in foreign countries.
As for the $900,000 economic “bump” predicted by various Longmont civic executives, it never happened. Sales taxes exceed those in three other months. Compared to the same period in ’08 they were $22,000 less.
Last year I argued strongly with Longmont’s City Council that a gate fee should have been charged to this non-profit organization, just as though it were a commercial rock show. It was obvious that council wanted to duck the discussion with its unspoken tension on the line between church and state.
The permit was granted of course, and minimal fees were charged. The possibility of a gate fee anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 was waived. A strong argument can be made that the city violated Rule 9:14 of the Municipal Code which specifically states, “(N)o expenditure shall be made for any charitable or benevolent purposes to any denominational or sectarian institution or association.”
What WWM does with its money and where they spend it is none of my business or anyone else’s. Had we in 2010 negotiated a percentage of the gate and directed to our local charities, I wouldn’t be writing this letter. But council ducked the debate, hyped the event and it won’t surprise me if it does so again.
If a city wants to make an illegal donation to a religious organization, I suggest at the very minimum it demand a public audit so citizens are fully informed.
I will provide documentation for all facts above upon request.