Deliberate Dysfunction? KPFA’s Decade of Financial Mismanagement

The Pacifica Radio Network nearly went into bankruptcy this month.  The immediate cause was a court order to pay the Empire State Building $1,800,000, more cash than Pacifica had.  As bad as that may be, it’s really a symptom of deeper problems in the network.  It goes back a long way.

I attended a KPFA ((KPFA 94.1 FM is one of five stations of the Pacifica radio network which are located in major cities across the country.  The other stations are WBAI 99.5 in New York, WPFW 89.3 in Washington DC, KPFT 90.1 in Houston, and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles.  There are also about two hundred affiliate stations.)) Local Station Board (LSB) meeting in 2005 when Max Blanchet (MBA in Finance from UC Berkeley) presented a minority report, warning that KPFA was hiring too many paid staff  The station was living beyond its means, and this couldn’t last.  Max’s report and repeated warnings were ignored by the station’s power clique, who were represented on the board by a slate which later stole the name “Save KPFA,” the SK.

Actually, that was not something new even then; it was the path Pacifica had been on since the 1990s, under the Hijacker Regime.  Events of 1999 did bring about important changes in governance, but the existing power clique remained in place, and they worked to continue KPFA’s extravagant lifestyle.  Not only that, they allied with a New York faction, the JUC (Justice & Unity), whose poor management and equally poor programming were depleting WBAI’s finances and causing a drain on Pacifica. In that unholy alliance, the SK functioned as JUC’s enablers and in turn received support on the Pacifica National Board (PNB) for their own dubious practices. Eventually, when crisis hit and Pacifica could no longer afford the waste, the SK loudly condemned WBAI.  To hear the righteous SK-ers tell it, they themselves were innocent of any wrongdoing.

Since 2005, I’ve attended a huge number of LSB meetings, watching from a ringside seat, as the SK burned through KPFA’s reserves, creating one financial fiasco after another, and generating a tense work environment in which SK friends were rewarded and critics got penalized.  The SK also blocked the hiring of competent and independent General Managers.  What they did wasn’t just damaging to KPFA; working with their allies at other Pacifica stations, they helped put the whole Pacifica network on the road to disaster.

We, the opposition, worked long and hard to effect a change in direction.  Nevertheless, I feel that we have a share in the blame in that we didn’t oppose the SK in a coherent and strategically effective way.  While some activists saw, spoke and wrote about what was going on, our group seemed paralyzed by an unrealistic dream that, despite differences, we could work with the SK.  “We all love KPFA,” seemed to be the illusion — which was true only in the sense that the wolf and the shepherd both love the sheep.

So the SK got away with their shenanigans.  Time after time.

In 2009 the financial mismanagement resulted in a major crisis, and at this very time when cash was most desperately needed, it was discovered that a check for $375,000 had been left in a drawer for thirteen months.  Then GM Lemlem Rijio took the fall for that and was fired.  But that’s as far as the investigation ever went.  Some of us suspected that others of the station’s power clique were also involved, and that it was not an accident.

In a letter published in the SF BayView, Max Blanchet expressed his belief that the mismanagement, including the misplaced check, “were maneuvers to force the station and Pacifica into bankruptcy with two goals in mind, namely to break the Pacifica network, set KPFA ‘free’ and do away with democratic governance.”  Max was not alone in thinking that; there are quite a number of articles from around 2010 expressing similar views.  Everything we’ve seen in the following seven or eight years supports that conjecture, incident after incident.

And now today in 2018, the SK are openly calling for bankruptcy!  What a coincidence!  Who would’ve ever guessed!

KPFA has already lost much of its antiwar voice, but under complete and total SK control the KPFA mission would be to actively promote “humanitarian” intervention and Democratic Party politics to progressives: phony “resistance” to Trump, resistance that does not oppose war.

That’s where the SK would take KPFA, right into the arms of the neoliberal Democratic Party.

Now let’s look at SK tactics, strategy.  I mentioned the September 2005 minority report by Max Blanchet, the warning about excessive spending.  Also in the same month of that same year, an email from Brian Edwards-Tiekert of SK was leaked; in it Brian had written to his group, “How do we make our enemies own the problems that are to come?” and that has been SK strategy all these years.  They’ll screw things up, create chaos, and then foist the blame on their critics.  For over a decade they’ve been accusing us of “infighting.”

Our response to such accusations has been to try to make nice.  “Let’s not fix blame!”  Today, we’re being really nice, and the SK, being the reasonable and flexible people that they are, have shown themselves willing to accept former opponents into their circle — provided, of course, that we give up the principles we’ve stood for and fought for all these years.

• Steve Gilmartin contributed to this article. He is a long time KPFA listener who took part in the 1999 struggle to rescue Pacifica from the Hijacker Regime.

Daniel Borgström is a member of the KPFA Local Station Board Rescue Pacifica Caucus. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Kennedy years, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes on various topics including travel, history, and struggles against corporate dominance.  He can be reached at Read other articles by Daniel, or visit Daniel's website.