Elton’s Return Comes with a $75,000 String Attached

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – The University of Montana agreed to raise $75,000 for the Elton John AIDS Foundation as an inducement for the entertainer to perform a sold-out show on April 11 at the Adams Center.

John’s AIDS Foundation has raised $125 million for AIDS-related work in 55 countries since 1992.

The required donation is spelled out in a memorandum of understanding between UM and the Howard Rose Agency, which represents John.

Two months ago, the Missoulian newspaper requested a copy of that memo, but was told it was a “trade secret” and not a public document. Since then, the UM student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, has obtained the memo and editorially questioned the alleged “secrecy” of the deal.

Now, the Missoula AIDS Council, a nonprofit agency that serves HIV-positive Montanans, has also publicly questioned the requirement, feeling slighted by UM in its own locally based efforts for AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment.

The council wonders why any negotiations to raise money for HIV and AIDS treatment did not require that at least part of the proceeds go to efforts in Missoula.

That is a point the council made in a meeting last Friday with Adams Center director Mary Muse.

“It does mean that $75,000 is leaving the community, and the fact is that there are hundreds of Montanans living with HIV and AIDS,” the Missoula Aids Council’s executive director, Keri McWilliams, said in an interview.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation granted the Missoula AIDS Council $14,000 in 1997.

Muse said UM did keep the fundraising quiet, and deliberately so.

Most of the money is coming from UM’s contacts with the Missoula business community, she said, and UM never had a doubt that it could come up with $75,000 over a period of five months, and therefore there was no need to run a very public capital campaign.

In fact, said Muse, running a public campaign would only hurt other capital efforts, including those by the UM Foundation and the Missoula AIDS Council.

Still, she did apologize on Friday to the AIDS Council for not informing it of the fundraising efforts.

After the ticket debacle from last autumn’s Elton John concert, in which thousands of Missoulians stood in line while nearly all tickets were sold online, UM began courting John for a second concert almost immediately.

That’s when UM learned of the AIDS Foundation, though nobody is clear who first brought up the possibility of UM raising money for the charity.

“It was suggested that if UM could facilitate a donation, (John) would feel more accommodating to making room for a spring date,” said Muse.