The sometimes contentious relationship between Berkeley’s KPFA radio and its owner, the national Pacifica Foundation, took another twist this week when KPFA supporters posted an online petition alleging that Pacifica recently withdrew $100,000 from the KPFA Wells Fargo bank account without notification of or consultation with station representatives.
The petition was posted on the iPetitions.com website sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, and by 4 p.m. on Wednesday had gathered 24 signatures, including several producers and employees at KPFA.
The new controversy comes as KPFA is beginning the process of electing new listener representatives for the station’s local board of directors. Elec-
tion ballots are scheduled to be mailed out to station members on Aug. 29 and are due back by Oct. 14, and a series of campaign debates and appearances are scheduled in September and early October. In the past, some of the KPFA board campaigns have revolved around the station’s relationship with Pacifica.
In an e-mail sent out early Wednesday morning to KPFA “colleagues,” KPFA Local Station Board Staff Represen-
tative and Treasurer Brian Edwards-Tiekert called the situation a “raid on KPFA’s accounts.”
Edwards-Tiekert wrote that on Friday of last week, “a Wells Fargo agent told KPFA’s Business Manager that Pacifica National had instructed the bank to transfer $100,000 of KPFA’s money to a National Office savings account, and secure another $100,000 as collateral for a line of credit for the national office. What’s remarkable is that the national office hadn’t even notified KPFA it was taking our money, let alone sought our permission. Nor has Pacifica’s Interim CFO, LaVarn Williams, responded to multiple emails on this subject since Friday.”
The Daily Planet left messages with Williams and with Grace Aaron, Pacifica interim executive director and board chair, who was in New York this week on business, but neither returned the messages by deadline.
However, an official affiliated with both KPFA and Pacifica told the Daily Planet this week, on background, that while stations owned by Pacifica Foundation raise their own money through pledge drives and other means and hold that money in bank accounts in the name of the individual stations, the money belongs to Pacifica Foundations, and can only be spent by the individual Pacifica stations themselves within budgets approved by the Pacifica National Board. The official said that with the exception of a set percentage of raised funds that goes back to Pacifica, the local stations “normally” use all of the money they raise locally except under “extraordinary situations,” when that money can be appropriated by Pacifica.
Aside from KPFA, Pacifica owns KPFK radio in Los Angeles, KPFT in Houston, WBAI in New York, and WPFW in Washington, D.C.
In his e-mail to KPFA “colleagues,” Edwards-Tiekert said that Pacifica Radio “has been spending more money than it’s been taking in. … The only way they’ve financed things thus far is by borrowing money against KPFA’s assets and delaying the release of (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) funds to KPFA and other stations. As of this month, that isn’t enough to cover the National Office’s mounting cash deficit, so it’s digging into KPFA’s accounts.”
“KPFA of all the Pacifica Stations,” Edwards-Tiekert continued, “built up the largest savings before the economy tanked. That’s made us an attractive target to a national leadership that doesn’t seem to understand you can’t spend more than you’re earning. If current trends persist, more raids on KPFA’s funds will be coming shortly.”
Edwards-Tiekert added that even though KPFA has “stepped up off-air fundraising and cut expenses,” the station is getting $1 million less per year in pledges than it was six years ago, and is spending down its savings “at a rate of over $300,000 per year.” “In other words,” Edwards-Tiekert concluded, “WE need the money sitting in our bank accounts if we want to keep our station alive until we get on more sustainable footing.”
Edwards-Tiekert said in his e-mail that he will raise the funds issue at KPFA’s local board meeting scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 8, 11 a.m. at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, at Cedar and Bonita.