Billionaire Philip Anschutz is the owner of the Coachella music festival, which is taking place this weekend. But Coachella attendees who support legal marijuana may want to rethink going back next year.
Anschutz, who has a net worth of approximately $13 billion, owns Anschutz Entertainment Group, the second-largest event promoter in the United States. Coachella, which happens annually in Indio, California, ranks among the top music festivals in the United States, and was the most profitable in 2015, bringing in more than $84 million in ticket sales (not including food and beverage sales) according to Fortune. While some of that money will go to the artists performing (rapper Cardi B is getting $70,000 to perform at this year’s festival), Anschutz will certainly get a sizeable share of the profits — some of which may end up being donated to the fight against legal marijuana.
Variety reported that as recently as 2016, Anschutz, who lives in Colorado, spent more than $200,000 funding anti-legal marijuana groups like Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and its partner organization, Smart Colorado. The organizations exist to limit the scope of recreational marijuana businesses, which have provided Colorado with more than $500 million in tax revenue since marijuana was legalized statewide in 2012. Roughly half of legal marijuana revenue has gone toward K-12 education funding.
This may explain why the Coachella festival explicitly bans marijuana on festival grounds, despite California legalizing marijuana statewide in a 2016 ballot initiative. According to pro-legalization site Freedomleaf, which obtained a copy Philip Anschutz’s 2016 tax return, the city of Indio, California, which hosts Coachella, has banned new marijuana stores from opening despite California’s legal pot laws.
In addition to his anti-marijuana activism, Philip Anschutz also used to be a prominent funder of anti-LGBT groups and causes. However, a spokesman for the Anschutz Foundation told Rolling Stone in 2017 that they have “immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.” Despite the Anschutz Foundation no longer supporting those groups, its 990 forms show donations to multiple right-wing organizations and think tanks, most notably to state-based chapters State Policy Network (SPN). Between tax years 2009 and 2011, the Anschutz Foundation contributed more than $5 million to multiple SPN affiliate groups.
As Grit Post recently reported, the SPN is responsible for a messaging memo circulated to right-wing groups describing how to attack public school teachers striking for better pay and more education funding. SPN also serves as a funding and support organization for prominent arch-conservative think tanks like the Koch-funded American Enterprise Institute and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The SPN, formerly known as the Madison Group, also has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a notorious right-wing policy group known for advancing Stand-Your-Ground bills like the one in Florida that allowed George Zimmerman to get away with killing Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Coachella’s headliner acts this year include Beyonce, Eminem, and The Weeknd. While attendees may not be able to smoke weed during those performances, anyone who brought marijuana to the festival is allowed to store it in “amnesty boxes” at the festival entrance to be picked up following Coachella’s conclusion.
Logan Espinoza is a freelance contributor specializing in economic issues. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter. Contact him at logan DOT espinoza AT yahoo DOT com.