Celebrities & Charity
December 15, 2003 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Celebrities take large payments from charities. The LA Times (reg reqd) is reporting that celebrities have received enormous payments for making appearances at celebrity benefits, including David Schwimmer, Cher, Gerald Ford, and others. To me, it's a shocking new low, but maybe I shouldn't be surprised.
posted by MikeB (33 comments total)
 
David Schwimmer

Well, that certainly explains how Ross affords that sweet apartment on an archeologist's salary...
posted by mkultra at 10:22 AM on December 15, 2003


Famous people suck.

I'd kill them all, but then I'd become famous. It's a vicious circle.

But they really suck.
posted by jonmc at 10:25 AM on December 15, 2003


You mean they work...for money? The mind boggles.
posted by biffa at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2003


Yet another reason to hate David Schwimmer. Thank you.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2003


I dont usually post very often, but when I read biffas troll I felt compelled.
If you cannot observe blatant hypocrisy when you see it biffa, you should keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, rather than reveal that you are, blatantly, by opening it.
posted by Saddo at 10:44 AM on December 15, 2003


It's not the working for money that offends some people. It's accepting the money from a charity. I.e., if you find the charity to be an acceptable employer - you have no ethical problem speaking for/to them - then you there is some kind of congruence of values, and you respect what they are doing - so why take money away from a cause that you support?
posted by luriete at 10:47 AM on December 15, 2003


And this comes as a SURPRISE to people? Come on. While I always believe it would be nice if every celebrity would give away his/her time and reputation to help raise money for non-profits, it simply does not happen. Furthermore, what is so wrong about these people being paid for their services? They are, in effect, attending benefits and making appearances so that other people will be drawn to the event. Is this a crime? Is it wrong for someone to use receive compensation for their work?

Now granted, I agree that some of the people listed probably don't need the money (well, perhaps Schwimmer does...), but I see nothing wrong with them taking payment.

I attended a benefit several months ago for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation where they flew in famous chefs from around the world to help raise money for the hospital. The event ended up raising an extraordinarily large sum of money and no doubt, they paid the celebrity chefs to attend (Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, etc.). The foundation made money, the chefs made money and those in attendance got a nice tax deduction along with some good food and the sense (ha) that they're helping the community.

The non-profit world is just as competitive as the for-profit world. Get over the idea that humans should all be altruistic and you'll be a lot less disappointed.
posted by tgrundke at 10:48 AM on December 15, 2003


Luriete -

I am a consultant to a local nature-preservation organization. I get paid for my services and I also am a strong supporter of this organization.

I also am employed by another local non-profit organization whom I am a very active advocate for and support very strongly. I also get paid for my services there.

People must get over the idea that being compensated for helping a non-profit organization is somehow 'bad'.
posted by tgrundke at 10:52 AM on December 15, 2003


Hopefully, once Friends ends this season, we will never again hear of the two dimensional girlyman enity David Schwimmer.
posted by Trik at 10:59 AM on December 15, 2003


i have worked all my life for a variety on NGO's. there are several celebs who, not only work for free, but pay all their own costs. this includes people like robbie williams and michael palin.

many of these people say it is their way of "putting something back"

however, reading the story, it is obvious that many of these 'charities' are, well, shall we say, they won't pass muster for serious aid work. vanity charities recruiting the vain.

thankfully most aid work has stricter funding criteria.
posted by quarsan at 11:02 AM on December 15, 2003


A few points:
  • Unless these celebrities had made previous statements that celebrities should not accept money and gifts from charities, this is not hypocrisy.
  • Biffa is not a troll. His post was, perhaps, a bit smartypants in tone and certainly misdirected in its overzealous libertarianism, but it was not outright disrespectful.
  • The core of the problem with celebrities receiving compensation for such appearances is that the appearance itself is worth quite a lot. Every actor needs to get his face on-camera in order to drum up some semblance of a career. Appearances for charity provide exposure and enhances image. The appearance is a payment all by itself. Accepting money and gifts is simply double-dipping.
posted by NedKoppel at 11:06 AM on December 15, 2003


Good summing-it-up, Ned. What he said.
This comment from a geek at whom Casey Kasem once yelled: "Shut up and sit down!" live on a Public TV fund-raising auction (I was getting bids from a caller on a 'telephone auction' that were consistantly three bids behind everybody else, and automatically shouting them out to auction-MC Kasem and looking rather dumb doing it)
posted by wendell at 11:13 AM on December 15, 2003


I wouldn't expect an employee of a charity to work for free, we all need money to survive. I would expect a celeb making a one night appearance at an event to donate his or her appearance, and most other people probably assume that the celeb has done so. The celeb then gets both the pirate booty, expensive watches, etc. and the good will that goes with donating time/talent/shmaltz to a good cause. That's where the problem lies.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:37 AM on December 15, 2003


I've never been called a libertarian before (or a troll very often, particularly by someone who puts his argument so lucidly).

Frankly though , I don't think it is particular hypocrisy on the part of celebs, people in our society are dumb enough to buy into the whole celeb thing and all celebs are doing is catering to a need. What they sell is their celebrity. The charity buys in to this, investing in their pulling power in much the same way that they invest in the hall and the catering, expecting more back in return. Sure its nice when celebs give their time for free, just as it is when other people volunteer their own time and skills, but don't expect people not to make a living off using whatever marketable abilities they might have (even if its a big fat living). I don't even think the double dipping argument holds up, most people get paid in both salary and kind, just that celebs trade in both money and the capital of exposure.

Personally, I wouldn't give tuppence to see any of them.
posted by biffa at 11:37 AM on December 15, 2003


This bothers me, but I can also understand it somewhat. If you're a celebrity then everybody wants to borrow your status for their cause. You may never have heard of many of these causes and might be at best ambivalent towards them. There are other causes you might feel empathy towards and some you might be dead-set against.

OK, so a dozen charities contact you, none of which you have any personal opinion for one way or another. You make it known through your publicist that you will expect an honorarium. This cuts the dozen down to a manageable two.

It's not hypocrisy, it's time management and also avoids the stigma that might be attached if you outright refused to attend the event.

Now if some celebrity is on record being very vocal about a cause then I would see some hypocrisy involved with them taking an honorarium. So if Ted Nugent gets an honorarium for speaking at an NRA rally then I see some hypocrisy. If Richard Gere gets a stipend for speaking at a pro-Tibet fundraiser then I'd also see some hypocrisy.
posted by substrate at 11:43 AM on December 15, 2003



For example, the William Morris Agency sent Bill Cosby an agreement guaranteeing him a $75,000 fee and $10,000 in expense money to receive the Humanitarian Award at a UCLA cancer research benefit set for early this year. The pact also spelled out that he'd receive a luxury sedan and "100% Headline Billing" for the event. Tonken's business collapsed, however, before the gala was held.

A Cosby spokesman said the comic instructed his agent to tell the charity he would donate his fee to the group if the event went forward. The spokesman said he didn't know why Cosby didn't simply forgo the fee.
My guess in instances like this is that the celebrity is not making the stated fee; rather, they are taking a charitable donation writeoff on their income tax, courtesy of the charity they are making an appearance for.

Now, that's not to say that some celebrities aren't taking the money and running, but I'd like to think (naïve me) that most of them are screwing the government rather than the charity.
posted by lowlife at 11:44 AM on December 15, 2003


My guess in instances like this is that the celebrity is not making the stated fee; rather, they are taking a charitable donation writeoff on their income tax, courtesy of the charity they are making an appearance for

That's not the way the tax law works. You can't deduct money that you never earned, and you can't deduct expenses unless you're actually out of pocket for them. "Donating your fee" means that you're working for free.

In terms of the general argument here, I don't have a problem with charities paying celebrities, but I think that the payments should be publicly disclosed. Donors shouldn't be subsidizing charitable appearances without knowing that they're doing it, and celebrities shouldn't get credit for making a charitable appearance when they're being paid.
posted by anapestic at 11:59 AM on December 15, 2003


No, they're taking the money. This isn't exactly new or earthshattering news, and I'm not sure of the "controversy" here.

If I don't believe in a charity's reason to be, then I don't work for them. If I do, then I'll be happy to get paid to appear for them. The "hypocrisy" would be if the celebrity did not believe in that charity's reason to be, but took their money and showed up anyway to give lip service.

I do agree, though, that charities should be required to indicate when celebrities are making paid (as opposed to donated) appearances. The idea that a celebrity could be taking advantage of appearing at a charitable event in order to appear charitable while being paid to attend is repugnant.
posted by FormlessOne at 12:22 PM on December 15, 2003


FormlessOne: I'm not sure of the "controversy" here... The idea that a celebrity could be taking advantage of appearing at a charitable event in order to appear charitable while being paid to attend is repugnant.

That's the controversy. "Who the hell does [whiney celeb du jour] think he/she is making [obscene sum from last movie deal] and telling broke-ass me to donate to [Very Important charity du jour] when said rich celeb has not only not done as they are asking me to do, but just TOOK money from that same cause!?"

It's a fair trade on the charity's part, because they may bring in more from the new recognition than they originally spent on the celeb, but that doesn't change that it also makes the celebrity an asshat.

tgrundke: ...some of the people listed probably don't need the money (well, perhaps Schwimmer does...)

Definitely not Schwimmer. Didn't the cast of Friends successfully renegotiate a couple seasons ago for a bit under 1mil/episode? I'm too lazy to check, but I think that's true.
posted by tirade at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2003


tgrundke, if you were a multimillionaire i would say that accepting money from them is unethical. it's not the accepting money part, it's HOW MUCH YOU TAKE and how much you already have.
posted by luriete at 2:14 PM on December 15, 2003


"you should keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, rather than reveal that you are, blatantly, by opening it" - Saddo

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool then to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abe Lincoln

just giving the ol' log-splitter his props.
posted by pejamo at 2:19 PM on December 15, 2003


luriete -

Granted, I understand your point. But who is it that should be entrusted to inform people of what constitutes "enough money" so that celebs shouldn't accept any more? Is $1 million annually enough? Is $50,000 yearly enough?
posted by tgrundke at 2:30 PM on December 15, 2003


So how can you tell when you give money to a charity that your money is actually being spent on the cause, and not on celebrity fees and administrator salaries and perks?
posted by fuzz at 2:35 PM on December 15, 2003


Well, how else would you expect them to give a damn about anything but themselves unless the "cause" has a big fat paycheck involved for them?

To all the Schwimmer bashers: The end cannot come soon enough to rid the world of his ultra-wanker personality. Hopefully, he'll die of auto-erotic asphyxiation, that would make a lovely parting image for him.
posted by fenriq at 2:43 PM on December 15, 2003


really , do you people need to have somebody sit down with you and explain the meaning of the word charity ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:45 PM on December 15, 2003


I also don't see the big deal. This is very common in all fundraising -- charitable, political, whatever. The event needs a big name, and that person becomes the "draw" -- the actual donors turn out and donate because of the draw. The bigger and better the draw, the more money the organization raises. So what?

I worked for an elected state official in Texas whose presence was requested at fundraisers almost weekly. Our policy was that the charity or org. had to pay every last expense, including airline, hotel, honorarium. It definitely weeded out the dilettantes. When I raised an eyebrow at first, it was pointed out that "we'd go broke paying for the expenses of attending these events, so it's either everybody pays us or nobody gets us. We can't risk playing favorites."

Non-profits are still businesses, many of them with multi-million dollar operating budgets. Don't want to pay administrative salaries? How does an org. like the Red Cross or the American Cancer Society get actually, you know, run? It takes real live professional business people to operate the org., and answer the phones, and make the copies, and pay the bills. It's not all good-natured orphans in bare feet running around collecting canned goods.

And the watches? Were likely donated by Cartier and Rolex as write-offs anyway. I doubt someone wrote a $27,000 check to buy David Schwimmer some gift-basket swag.

Must have been a really slow news day at the LA Times...
posted by pineapple at 2:55 PM on December 15, 2003


And the watches? Were likely donated by Cartier and Rolex as write-offs anyway. I doubt someone wrote a $27,000 check to buy David Schwimmer some gift-basket swag.

Exactly the point I was going to make. Swag is always value-in-kind and many times cash is too (appearance fees are paid by a sponsor, not from the charity's operating fund).

Having worked in several non-profits and being the recipient of several high-dollar items from the same and others, while its not inconcievable that sometimes the celebs are pocketing "real" money, in most cases its "funny money".

NPR just did a piece on the distrust of charities.[windows media or Real required to get the full story].
posted by m@ at 4:14 PM on December 15, 2003


It is true this is nothing new, and we've heard it all before, but there should be some form of regulation to keep a strong delineation between the sincere and the insincere. However. We all know where that'd lead. They'd eventually pass a law insisting that whenever a celebrity shows up in public, they have to publically announce whether or not they're being paid, and by whom.

Okay. So. Maybe that wouldn't suck.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:47 PM on December 15, 2003


What I have learned: Bill Cosby, Paul Anka and that guy from Friends are all scumbags.

However, Michael Palin is pretty cool.

This is in no way a shock to my world view.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 4:53 PM on December 15, 2003


So how can you tell when you give money to a charity that your money is actually being spent on the cause, and not on celebrity fees and administrator salaries and perks?

If you are interested in giving to a charity and this worries you, ask to see their 990.

Some information about how the 990 can be useful. You can use this form to determine how much of their revenues a charity is spending on their mission and how much goes to administrative costs.

There are various places online youc an find many 990 forms, or you can request it from the particular organization. If they file with the IRS, they are required to keep three years' worth on record and deliver it if requested.

So, while they are not required to tell you about certain individual expenditures, they are required to report how they generally spend their money.
posted by obfusciatrist at 6:24 PM on December 15, 2003


Thanks!
posted by fuzz at 6:58 PM on December 15, 2003


In terms of the general argument here, I don't have a problem with charities paying celebrities, but I think that the payments should be publicly disclosed. Donors shouldn't be subsidizing charitable appearances without knowing that they're doing it, and celebrities shouldn't get credit for making a charitable appearance when they're being paid.

Agreed.
posted by dejah420 at 7:27 PM on December 15, 2003


The hypocrisy lies in advocating the worthiness of contributing money to a particular cause, and then taking money from it.


c'mon people!
posted by Saddo at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2003


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