Facebook helped to establish the network of millions of people who will celebrate the upcoming 250th anniversary in 2019. They have invested $10 million into this project, and it is estimated that they could gain as much up to 10 times their investment from advertisement revenue alone.
WASHINGTON— According to documents seen by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by the company, the America250 Foundation, a nonprofit planning the government’s commemoration of the American Revolution’s 250th anniversary, has signed a deal with Meta Platforms Inc., giving Facebook’s parent an inside role in producing and promoting the Semiquincentennial commemoration in exchange for $10 million.
Daniel DiLella, a Pennsylvania real estate businessman who is head of both the foundation and the government organization that was formed to support it, the United States Semiquincentennial Commission, authorized the pact. Both organizations have a website and advertise themselves as America250 when seen as a whole.
According to those familiar with the situation, the arrangement was reached over staff protests, who said it gave Facebook too much control over a government initiative and granted unique access and advantages that may dissuade other corporations from becoming sponsors. According to these persons, the specifics haven’t been shared with the whole 36-member group, which Congress formed in 2016 to plan commemorations running up to July 4, 2026.
“Any contracts that contain the use of the commission’s logo, trademark, or identity need the commission’s vote, according to the commission’s regulations and procedures.” Commissioner Andrew Hohns, CEO of Philadelphia investment company Newmarket Capital, stated in an interview that no such vote has ever been offered or taken on this contract.
The agreement granting Meta Platforms a role in developing and marketing the U.S. Semiquincentennial commemoration was authorized by Daniel DiLella, head of both the America250 Foundation and the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission.
Business Wire/Associated Press photo
Mr. DiLella turned down requests for an interview.
On Wednesday, the commission will vote on a package of proposals backed by Mr. DiLella that would give blanket approval to previous actions taken by the foundation without explicit federal agency approval.
Other elements, according to the plan, would give Mr. DiLella more authority over the commission, including the ability to nominate officers and committee members, restrict commissioners’ participation in meetings, and withhold information from the public and other commissioners.
According to the introduction, the recommendations are meant to simplify commission operations since obtaining a quorum has proved challenging. It goes on to say that “a lack of decorum and respect for other Commissioners” ruined the commission’s September meeting, when Mr. Hohns and two other commissioners demanded an accounting of public expenditures.
In a statement, America250 spokesperson Michael Frazier stated, “The Governance Committee spent more than 100 hours, including 14 hours in meetings debating on criticisms and proposals” to strengthen commission operations. Members of the committee either refused to speak or did not reply to requests for interviews.
If accepted, the package may strengthen Mr. DiLella’s grip on a project that has been sabotaged by mismanagement, cronyism, and sex discrimination, according to opposing commissioners and a lawsuit filed by former workers. Mr. DiLella is “committed to appointing an independent investigator to evaluate these accusations,” according to Mr. Frazier, who hopes to begin the study within 30 days.
Mr. Frazier said in a statement posted Sunday that America250 used “a conventional method” with the Facebook sponsorship and that the development and executive committees of the commission were “informed throughout the process.” This possible business support has also been shared with the whole Commission. A bigger public announcement is on the way.”
After The Wall Street Journal reported in February that four female executives had resigned from America250 in protest of what they called a toxic workplace and a vice president’s coverup of improper expenditures and invoices, among other complaints, Facebook said it was reviewing its relationship with the organization.
“We decided to join and support since we considered this to be a typical corporate sponsorship focused at honoring America’s 250th anniversary,” a Meta spokeswoman stated. “We’re looking through this report and weighing our options.”
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The governance recommendations follow a tumultuous meeting of the commission in September, during which three members questioned Mr. DiLella’s leadership.
According to a transcript, Commissioner James Swanson, an author and former Republican Justice Department official, said at the September meeting, “We believe it is time for Congress to conduct oversight hearings on the Commission’s management, hiring, contracting, and financial practices, as well as how the Commission has spent its federal appropriation,” $20 million so far.
Mr. DiLella’s recent intentions have several commissioners concerned.
In an interview, former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D., N.Y.), who held a commission seat reserved for lawmakers until leaving Congress in 2019 and was reappointed as a private citizen in October 2021, said, “I would not be comfortable with rubber stamping everything that has been done over the past three years.”
The America250 Foundation was established in part to enlist private-sector sponsorship for the Semiquincentennial celebrations. According to an internal financial report obtained by the Journal, the foundation was mostly financed by the commission it was designed to assist as of December, with the commission transferring $11.8 million of its congressional funds to the charity.
A $2 million contribution from an unknown “national sponsor” was the second-highest income source. According to the records, Facebook agreed to pay the foundation $10 million in installments in an agreement signed in June by Scott Hommel, America250’s chief operational officer at the time, and Josh Ginsberg, Meta’s vice president for public relations marketing.
According to the agreement, Facebook will be the Semiquincentennial’s official “social connection” partner, with rights to utilize the America250 trademark and to assist in the planning and presentation of the commemorations. It gives Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, a place on the Semiquincentennial Corporate Leadership Council.
At a June meeting, Anna Laymon, the America250 Foundation’s former vice president of programs and planning, criticized the contract between Meta Platforms and the foundation.
Ashley Mercer is shown here.
“America250 will help Facebook’s efforts to catalog National Parks and Landmarks,” the deal states. That provision, according to people familiar with the deal, alludes to Meta’s virtual-reality product Oculus, which wants to take photographs by flying drones over federal land. According to these sources, Meta has urged America250 to set up meetings with Interior Department officials to discuss the situation.
Some Semiquincentennial observances will be outsourced to Meta under the terms of the agreement. It states that “programs and platforms will be detailed to Facebook, and may include vetted influencers and content on each subject designed to encourage discourse among Facebook users.”
21 Sports and Entertainment Marketing Group Inc. negotiated the deal and will get a 17 percent commission. According to the internal financial report, the Greenwich, Conn., business has already collected $340,000.
According to an audio recording of the discussion obtained by the Journal, Anna Laymon, then vice president of programming and strategy for America250, expressed her displeasure with the contract during a June meeting. “It appears to me that Facebook is giving a federal agency special access,” she said.
The agreement had been authorized by Thomas McGarrigle, a friend of Mr. DiLella who is functioning as the foundation’s lawyer, according to Rob Prazmark, a 21 Marketing partner.
Mr. Prazmark remained silent. Mr. McGarrigle did not reply to a request for an interview. The case includes Ms. Laymon, who resigned in September.
Renee Burchard, then America250’s chief administrative officer and chief of staff, cautioned that Facebook’s presence may be a deal breaker for other firms during a September meeting when officials discussed methods for recruiting Walmart Inc. as a sponsor.
“They’re receiving a lot of negative publicity,” Ms. Burchard remarked, adding that the corporation was the subject of “congressional hearings.” She highlighted Journal publications from the previous year that detailed societal consequences associated with Meta products like Facebook and Instagram.
Corporate sponsors, according to Ms. Burchard, desire “a safe, pure, nonpolitical, fantastic venue” to strengthen their brands. “Facebook would make me say, ‘Wait a minute,’” she says.
“Facebook is a monster in my opinion.” Thomas Shepard, another 21 Marketing executive, replied, “And in a positive manner.”
Mr. Shepard did not reply to a request for an interview. Ms. Burchard resigned in December and is one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.
Walmart and many other corporations have so far refused sponsorship invitations, according to sources familiar with the conversations.
Jess Bravin can be reached at [email protected]
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