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Photo by Matt Coker"Would you like to buy a Star of Hope?" asks the girl with the Bettie Page bangs in the Edwards Theater ticket booth.
"No way in heaven," I say. "I just want to see my movie, and besides, Philip Anschutz can go to hell."
Going to see a movie in Orange County usually means you're making Anschutz a richer man—and I'm speaking here of cash not consciousness. In 2001, the evangelical billionaire bought Edwards Cinemas and merged the company with two other debt-ridden theater chains—United Artists Theaters and Regal Cinemas—to form Regal Entertainment Corp. Today, Regal is the largest theater chain in the country, with 5,663 screens in 524 theaters in 36 states. In Orange County, it's essentially a show-business monopoly.
But all is not kosher in the Kingdom of Anschutz. In 2002, when he was negotiating the purchase of London's Millennium Dome, the BBC dubbed him a "corporate vulture." They were right, and I'll explain why in a moment. But for now, let me get to what's urgent: Anschutz's Star of Hope fund-raiser.
For a $1 donation, my name will appear on a paper star that will hang in the theater lobby. In return, the Regal Foundation—after unspecified administrative costs are paid—will donate what's left of my dollar. But to what? Buying a Star of Hope is like dropping change into a collection plate of Anschutz's choice—and given his background, that's foolish philanthropy.
From his home in Denver, Colorado, Anschutz oversees a fortune of $4 billion. In addition to Regal and the Millennium Dome, he's part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Staples Center. The Union Pacific Corp.; the Forest Oil Corp.; Celine Dion's Las Vegas production company; a dozen professional ice-hockey teams; and more than 335,000 acres of agricultural land in Colorado, Wyoming and Texas are also part of the Anschutz portfolio.
An evangelical Presbyterian, Anschutz got his start using his Daddy's Kansas-based oil-and-gas business as a pipeline to riches in railroads and later as a conduit to profits in the telecommunications industry. That's where the devoutly postured Anschutz made Enron-style headlines as the owner of Qwest Communications.
Early in 2000, the fiber-optics giant encouraged employees to keep their retirement savings in company stock even as senior executives were bailing out, selling shares worth hundreds of millions of dollars. According to SEC filings, Anschutz unloaded 6.1 million shares during that period. Qwest peaked at $64 per share. Six months later, the same share was valued at $1.95. During that time, Anschutz netted $213.5 million in profit. To his credit, the 63-year-old billionaire was branded the greediest executive in America by Forbes magazine—the magazine that calls itself "the capitalist tool"—topping a list that included consensus vulture Gary Winnick, founder of Global Crossing.
Currently, Qwest is reaching a settlement that requires Anschutz to pay $5 million to charity. A Qwest representative said Anschutz does not consider the amount significant. This doesn't say much about the dollar he wants me to donate and even less about where it would go.
Anschutz has already established one charitable fund, the Anschutz Foundation, that helps bankroll a choice selection of ultraconservative holier-than-thou organizations. If the Anschutz Foundation is any indication, your Star of Hope donation could go to the spectacularly anti-gay Colorado for Family Values (CFV). This Anschutz-funded group's goal is to halt "the militant gay agenda." Your donation could help spread the CFV doctrine that "pedophilia is a basic part of the homosexual lifestyle" or that "homosexuals freely admit among themselves the importance of child abuse."
Another beneficiary of the Anschutz Foundation, the Institute for American Values, campaigns against single parenting; still another, Enough is Enough, promotes Internet censorship.
"A 14-year-old girl from Fort Smith, Arkansas, was molested by a 26-year-old lesbian from New Jersey," Enough is Enough reports. "The initial contact was made while the girl was using a computer at a local public library."
Enough is Enough makes it difficult to tell whether they're against computers, libraries or lesbians, but one thing is certain: Anschutz is no newcomer to nurturing ecclesiastic loonies.
In 1988, he created the Marian Pfister Anschutz Award in honor of his mother. One of the first recipients was James Dobson, author, radio commentator and founder of Focus on the Family. Described by one reporter as a "professional Christian," Dobson is best known for his work on President Ronald Reagan's Commission on Pornography. There, Dobson testified that his family was chased around town by a black Porsche with Satan behind the wheel—presumably to reward Dobson for working for Reagan.
I'm not kidding you. Anschutz actually gave an award named after his mother to this pious freak. There's more. In his book Children at Risk, Dobson writes that pornography can lead to "sex between women and bulls, stallions or boars" and eventually to serial killings. According to Dobson, Ted Bundy's vicious sex-murder spree was inspired by "the accidental discovery of girlie magazines at a roadside dump."
Just think: your purchase of a Star of Hope could prevent slayings inspired by girlie magazines.
Speaking of boars, the Anschutz Corp.'s $100,000 donation to Bill Simon's 2002 run for California governor put them near the top of his contributor list. Simon, you may recall, made a guest appearance on Behind the Scenes, a TV series produced by Orange County's hare-brained Trinity Broadcasting Network. TBN's nefarious TV lineup includes faith healer Benny Hinn, who once predicted the exact date God would incinerate every person of alternative sexual orientation on earth. Star of Hope? I think not.
Before I go in to see my movie—and make Anschutz a wealthier man—I ask the girl with the Bettie Page bangs if she has ever seen Anschutz. She tries to hold back a laugh. It seems that Anschutz rarely speaks with anyone except his inner circle. A notoriously private man, he hasn't given an interview in decades and has rarely been photographed. When he was asked to appear before the congressional committee investigating his Qwest stock earnings, his attorneys persuaded Congress to contact him by phone. There's no doubt the man has clout, but you've got to wonder if he's shy or simply ashamed.
My movie is about to begin. As I hand my ticket to the doorman, I see a few Stars of Hope hanging on a wall as testament to a man and his vision. Perched on the theater's balcony, I can imagine Anschutz, the corporate vulture. He swoops down and tries to jab his greedy little beak into my pocket. There's a flurry of feathers. My pocket is gone, and Anschutz flies out the door. Whatever he wants in this life, it's a sad version of heaven that Anschutz is pursuing: an acquisition destined to fail. Everyone knows it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a corporate vulture to enter the Kingdom of God.