Bono under fire: where does all the ONE cash go?

Sep 23, 2010
Johnny Dee

Johnny Dee: It’s time Bono paid his taxes in Ireland and told us how the ONE campaign funds are spent

U2's singer Bono is under fire from American commentators accusing him of hypocrisy. It's just not fair: while other rock stars are content to sit around merely writing songs and recording albums, Bono is out there trying to make a real difference to the world - saving lives, fighting poverty, ending Aids.

The U2 man will do anything to get things done, whether it's hugging George W Bush, staring meaningfully at Dmitry Medvedev, eating a bun that fell on the floor when he was having tea with the Pope, or wearing stack heels to make himself appear taller than Nelson Mandela.
Small sacrifices for a man who is much more than a singer or a celebrity.

Bono is the closest rock 'n' roll has to a superhero. He's a noble saint in search of peace and justice. We should be grateful to him for his attempts to save our planet from starvation. But instead we attack him. Shame on us!

First, there were the petty complaints that moving his song catalogue from Ireland (where he would need to pay millions of pounds in tax) to the Netherlands (where he would have to pay next to zero) was tax evasion. Ridiculous!

Now the vultures are circling again and accusing his ONE Campaign of financial profligacy. Ridiculous!

Well, er, actually they may have a point.

On Tuesday, the New York Post ran a piece about a lavish gift package sent to them by ONE, the campaign set up by Bono to force governments to fund Aids and poverty programmes across the world.

The free swag was sent to newsrooms across New York in an effort to persuade journalists to get behind ONE's latest drive to persuade President Obama to give billions to Africa to combat Aids.

The swag included Starbucks coffee, Moleskin leather notebooks, a syringe style pen and an over-sized chocolate chip cookie. Tat - but expensive tat. Expensive enough to get cynics questioning whether the money wouldn't have been better spent on the people ONE proclaims to be campaigning for.

This is a pretty constant theme among ONE observers. The sting in the tail of the Post's article was the analysis of ONE's filed 2008 accounts. The analysis showed that while ONE brought in nearly $15 million in donations from philanthropists such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008, just $184,732 was distributed to charities and more than $8 million went on salaries. We presume the rest was spent on cookies and sunglasses.

Bono needs those shades to help him ignore the bright, shining truth of his position. His offshore tax activities appear to expose him as a hypocrite - a man who pressures governments to put their house in order but is happy to exploit loopholes for his own financial gain.
With Ireland in recession, aid to developing countries has been cut. Perhaps Bono would like to make up the shortfall. Or perhaps not.

ONE says it is not a charity - it performs advocacy work, not charity work, said a spokesman. But it is registered in the US as a non-profit organisation and the wastage of its funds does a huge disservice to genuine charities less liberal with their budgets.

If a campaign headed by someone as pious as Saint Bono can be so profligate then, some may wonder, what goes on at other charities? How they must be thanking Bono for all his hard work.

Soon even U2's biggest fans and Bono's greatest apologists may come to realise that Bono isn't a superhero, punk rock missionary or avenger of justice, but a little fella on the biggest ego trip in the history of rock 'n' roll. Those pictures of him with the leaders of the free world are meaningless photo opportunities, nothing more.

Through a combination of charm and power, Bono and U2 get an easy ride in the British press. Follow their career and you'll notice the same journalists interview them every time. Bono has never seriously answered allegations about his finances, nor has the effect of all his campaigning ever been measured or analysed.

In the 12 months between June 2009 and June 2010, U2 earned £84.9 million according to Forbes magazine (Bono's a shareholder - just one of his many investments - so the figures are presumably correct) making them the highest earning band on the planet.

And this was before the second leg of their world tour which is estimated to have made them as much as £300 million. They topped the Irish Sunday Times millionaires list in April with a combined wealth of £429 million.
Bono should put his own money where his mouth is. He should pay tax in Ireland and be transparent about where ONE's money is spent. Until then a line from U2's song of the same name rings rather too true:

"Did I disappoint you?"

Frankly, yes.

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