Staff Columnist

Ashton Kutcher's failed promise to Iowans

Native Fund director compares group's efforts to 'newbo evolve'

Dallas Clark, a former All-American football player at the University of Iowa, and Iowa-born actor Ashton Kutcher make a
Dallas Clark, a former All-American football player at the University of Iowa, and Iowa-born actor Ashton Kutcher make a surprise appearance onstage Aug. 27, 2016, at the Back Porch Revival concert held in Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Headline acts included Tucker Beathard and Blake Shelton. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

It was a concert everyone around here remembers: Big and Rich and Blake Shelton at Kinnick Stadium and emceed by KCRG-TV’s Beth Malicki. Approximately 50,000 people showed up on the thick August night in 2016 to drink beer, listen to music and raise money for the Native Fund, a nonprofit started by two Iowa golden boys — former Iowa Hawkeye Dallas Clark and actor Ashton Kutcher.

Kutcher told The Gazette’s Diana Nollen in 2017 that the fund was created after seeing the devastation of the 2008 floods. Kutcher and Clark came up with the idea in 2011, and in 2014, when Clark moved back to Iowa, he made the plan a reality.

In 2015, the Native Fund became a nonprofit. The mandate was broad: from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to flood repair, the fund would catalyze Iowans helping Iowans.

Yet despite the concert in 2016 and another one — Metallica in 2017 — the fund hasn’t lived up to its mandate. In the four years it has been around, the Native Fund has paid out more in executive compensation than it has donated to Iowans in need.

Hired in 2016, executive director Kyle McCann, a former Hawkeye who now is a lawyer in Des Moines at Brick Gentry, earned nearly $600,000 in salary and executive compensation in four years. The fund paid out half that in gifts to the UIHC and disaster aid, according to federal income tax forms the nonprofit is required to make public. The total donations through 2019 equal $320,010.

For comparison, the national average salary for a chief executive officer of a nonprofit with a budget of between $500,000 and $1 million is $89,790. In Iowa, it’s $80,014.

McCann left his executive director position in July but remains an active participant in the nonprofit. According to its 2018 tax form, the fund has just under $200,000 on its books.

In a phone interview, Clark said the fund just never took off like they wanted it to.

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The Back Porch Revival concert at Kinnick raised almost $4 million, he said. IRS records, however, show the total raised by the nonprofit in 2016 was $2.9 million while expenses totaled more than $3.3 million — with $1 million of that paid to Blake Shelton.

The Metallica concert in 2017 also lost money.

But Clark pointed out that “those events brought Iowa together, and doesn’t that count for something?”

In an email, McCann compared the fund with failed “newbo evolve,” which was Iowa’s own Fyre Festival.

It was held in Cedar Rapids over the weekend of Aug. 3-5, 2018, and brought in Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 as headline acts with lectures by director John Waters, Olympian Adam Rippon, designer Christian Siriano and others. But the festival was expensive and mismanaged and ultimately lost $2.3 million — even though the Cedar Rapids City Council had approved $1 million in local hotel-motel tax money for its promoter. Many vendors and performers weren’t paid, and the tourism entity promoting the festival was shut down.

The difference between newbo evolve and the Native Fund, McCann wrote, was that the fund paid its debts.

“The Native Fund’s Board were willing to personally stand behind the financial obligations undertaken for the concert and not seek loans from other organizations or financial institutions in hosting its events. … The Native Fund was able to survive an extremely precarious situation.”

But honoring those debts, coupled with McCann’s compensation, means that the goal of Iowans helping Iowans hasn’t been met in the way it was intended.

Clark explained that Kutcher no longer is an active part of the organization and that McCann was let go due to lack of funds. He explained if he knew the concerts would lose so much money, he would have planned things differently.

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He also said they wanted to host another concert, but renovation plans at Kinnick got in the way. And he still hasn’t ruled out concerts altogether. Clark said he plans to continue the fund. In the email from McCann also signed by Clark and Secretary Scott Raecker, they insist that “In our view, it is better to have tried and ‘failed’ than to never have tried at all.”

It’s the insistent defense of failed effort. During our interview, Clark begged me to judge them on their intentions, which he says were good.

But whenever promise and ego are valued over experience, Iowans lose.

Comments: lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; 319-368-8513

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