The Pacifica Foundation, KPFA radio’s parent organization, may have violated the California Corporations Code, when it stripped the local advisory board members of their right to vote for members of the governing board, says a report released Monday by the Joint State Auditor’s Committee.
The report validates a number of the other complaints made by supporters of the 51-year-old Berkeley-based community radio station.
“The report strengthens our claims that improper, possibly illegal actions (on the part of Pacifica) have gone on,” said Larry Bensky, KPFA radio host, fired from his national post with Pacifica last year. Bensky currently serves as a volunteer Sunday-morning talk show host.
The California attorney general may decide to take action legal action based on the report. Sandra Michioku, press officer in the attorney general’s office, said her office had not had time to review the document, but will do so.
The report quotes Belinda John, deputy attorney general from the Charitable Trust Section, who says that a nonprofit must adhere to certain legal principals, primarily that “the assets of the charities are used for their intended purpose. The role of the Attorney General’s office is to represent the public beneficiary of a charity (which) can not sue in (its) own right.”
Bensky said that he hoped the attorney general will act on the report. He said it is valuable for other reasons. Its findings can be used to strengthen claims in several lawsuits pending against Pacifica. Two have been filed by staff dismissed by Pacifica – Bensky and former Station Manager Nicole Sawaya. The other two concern allegations of running the foundation in opposition to the interests of the listener sponsors.
The report stems from an Aug. 20 audit committee hearing, held in Oakland at the request of 24 members of the state legislature. KPFA’s listener-sponsors wanted to know where their money was going, among other questions. In particular, they wanted to ascertain the costs for security guards which Pacifica had brought into the station and they wanted to know how much money was spent on the public relations effort Pacifica had made.
The conflict between KPFA employees, volunteers and supporters, and Pacifica Foundation erupted in March 1999, when the station dismissed Sawaya. Problems grew as on-air programmers discussed Sawaya’s termination and were put on leave or fired by Pacifica management. The conflict grew when Pacifica locked out programmers and piped in pre-taped programming. More than 100 demonstrators were arrested when they committed civil disobedience outside the station.
Pacifica representatives declined to appear at the hearing.
“Because I value the principal of independence of undue political interference in public broadcasting, I will not appear as a witness during today’s hearing,” former Executive Director Lynn Chadwick wrote to the committee at the time.
Among the other of the committee’s conclusions:
• A lockout of union employees “appears” to have violated their collective bargaining agreement.
• Several of Pacifica’s actions appear to contradict or violate the stated mission of the Pacifica Foundation.
• Pacifica engaged in poor management practices that may have damaged the credibility of the corporation.
• Pacifica executives used local KPFA operating revenues for purposes inconsistent with established practices and inconsistent with reasonable donor expectations.
• Pacifica’s failure to communicate with its stakeholders and employees was inconsistent with its founding principles.
Assemblymember Scott Wildman, chair of the audit committee, was not available to comment on the report.
The report can be read on line at http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a43/jlacfinalpacrpt.doc