Clean Up BPPA

a campaign to remove offensive rhetoric from the Pax Centurion newsletter

What Did Sponsors Think They Were Sponsoring?

We’ve reported on the extraordinary commission rate that Commonwealth Productions earned for selling advertising, which seems to be exclusively for the Pax Centurion, here and here.  We’ve also shown that advertisers have repeatedly claimed they were contributing to a scholarship fund, not necessarily buying advertising to support the Pax Centurion. Perhaps some advertisers were solely paying to support the Pax Centurion, but that’s not what anyone who has responded has said thus far.

Is there a conflict between what the BPPA reported on their tax forms and what sponsors are saying they thought the transaction was about?

Questions related to the nature of solicitations seem natural, particularly when you learn that Commonwealth Productions formed in September 2006 with this description of its business activities:

The general character of the business of Commonwealth Productions, LLC includes all services customarily performed by a professional advertising solicitor, printer and distributor of a trade or organizational publication. Additional services to be provided include fundraising activity, excluding “charitable solicitation”, for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, Inc.

Is it unusual for a business to cite one particular client, with a particular activity exclusion, in their incorporating documents? That’s the first question that comes to mind when reading this. Did someone at BPPA ask for a new organization to be formed with this specific wording? If so, why? Did Commonwealth Productions have any other clients? (The Massachusetts Secretary of State shows no reporting from Commonwealth Productions after the certificate of organization was filed.)  The next question: how does one perform fundraising activity for a client without performing “charitable solicitations”?

Given that sponsors say they were contributing to a scholarship fund & not buying advertising, the biggest questions have to do with the nature of any interactions and  transactions between sponsors, Commonwealth Productions and the BPPA. Whose version of the transaction is true?

If you’re contacting sponsors, here are some questions we’d love to have them answer so that we can clarify all of this:

  • Do they know who contacted them about their sponsorship?
  • Did the contact self-identify as a professional fundraiser or a member of BPPA?
  • Do they have any records of the solicitations? (letters, emails, faxes which gave them information about what they were being solicited for)
  • Were they asked to support the newsletter or contribute to the scholarship fund?
  • Do they have receipts for tax exempt charitable donations?
  • How much did they contribute? Do they know what portion of that actually went toward the scholarship fund?
  • If they were told that they were either buying advertising or were getting advertising free for supporting the scholarship fund, were they given an opportunity to see the content and nature of the newsletter before making a decision?
  • How do they feel about the Boston Police Department now that they have seen the newsletter content and may realize how little of their contribution actually was used for scholarships?

Basically, we’re trying to understand whether sponsors were being sold ads by a professional salesperson, and whether they understood that the primary purpose of their money was to support a newsletter. If not, why was BPPA allowing sponsors to be solicited for charitable funds by Commonwealth Productions when their certificate of organization prohibits them from that activity? Perhaps most importantly, were sponsors given the opportunity to see that any advertising they did, whether they were buying it or being given it, was going to be associated with very offensively bigoted content?

These are all questions that only sponsors can answer. You can find contact information here, if you’d like to ask them these questions.

In the 990 forms for BPPA, they must state the activities they pursue which qualify them for tax exempt status. In the 2008 filing, on Page 8, Part VIII, we see this:

Relationship of Activities to the Accomplishment of Exempt Purpose of Statement

B) Defend the Legal Rights of its Members;
C) Benefit the Widows/Widowers of its Members;
D) Create and Foster Goodwill for its Members.

Does the way in which funds were solicited for the Pax Centurion “foster goodwill” with the sponsors? Does the content itself “foster goodwill” with the community at large, or any of the women, people of color, or non-heterosexual members of the BPPA itself?

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One comment on “What Did Sponsors Think They Were Sponsoring?

  1. Betsy
    07/19/2012

    Great piece, great questions, keep it up!

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This entry was posted on 07/19/2012 by in advertisers, financial.

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