Jonathan Tasini, the litigious freelancer who's suing the Huffington Post for not paying its contributors, has a blog that invites readers to contribute. No, he doesn't pay them.
Tasini's blog, Working Life, was launched in 2004 as a "community of people who want to discuss, share ideas and exchange information and stories about work, the economy and labor," where "vigorous opinions are encouraged." Accordingly, Tasini frequently publishes his readers' comments, which he regards as the heart and soul of Working Life: "This blog was started precisely so that people could have a place to debate and bring news of their own." Sound familiar?
Working Life doesn't have any ads that we can see, but Tasini does offer instructions on how to purchase advertising on the site's "About" page. So we called him to ask if he ever sold any ads and, if so, how much he paid the "community" that made his site what it is.
"It hasn't had any ads in several years, but there were a couple unions that did buy some advertising," he said. "They wanted to support the work I was doing." So how much of that did he kick back to commenters and readers whose e-mails he ran? "There was never a thought that we would do that," he said. "Oh, I see what you're doing. Are you comparing my little blog to the Huffington Post? That's absurd."
He's right—the Huffington Post generated enough money to make it an attractive target for a frivolous attention-seeking lawsuit. Totally different.
While Tasini is very concerned that HuffPo bloggers get paid for their work, his past suggests that he's no slouch at getting paid without doing too much work himself. In addition to drawing attention to himself with his latest lawsuit, Tasini successfully sued the New York Times for stiffing freelancers out of digital licensing fees and unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2010. But one of his lesser known achievements is the Creators Federation, a short-lived nonprofit he launched in 2002 with the "revolutionary" goal of "forging a unified voice that articulates creators' individual interests...in matters ranging from fair remuneration to tax policy to government funding." According to the two tax returns it filed in 2002 and 2003, the Creators Federation seems to have done nothing except pay Tasini $46,700 in "consulting fees."
As Joseph Culligan's Web of Deception first noticed, Tasini launched the Federation with more than $108,00 in donations in August 2002. Tasini was president of the three-member board, and he drew no salary. The Federation spent just $5,000 that year, mostly on travel and a web site. The next year, from August 2003 to July 2004, it raised no money and spent roughly half of its funds on consulting services to Tasini. And that's it. The Federation filed no more tax returns with the New York attorney general's office, as it is required to do if it's active in the state. All told, it spent $53,859 in its short life—$46,700 on Tasini and $7,159 on a web site, travel, and other miscellaneous expenses. That leaves the $54,000 on hand at the filing of its final tax return unaccounted for.
So what did it accomplish? Basically nothing. The Creators Federation web site is dead, but an archived version still online shows big plans—a $5 million legal defense fund for "creators," a health and benefits plan—and no results. It literally doesn't seem to have done anything aside from announce itself on a web site, pay Tasini $46,700, and go away.
Tasini told us that the idea behind the Creators Federation was to create a sort of über-lobbying group for all content creators—magazine writers, artists, playwrights, etc. He launched it with funds from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Center for the Public Domain, but after spending two years trying and failing to convince the heads of various writers unions to join forces, he decided to shut it down. So what did he do during those two years? "I wrote and researched something called the Strategic Power Analysis of the industry," he said, which consisted of "a look at how the media industry was structured." Anything else? "There were a lot of meetings, sessions trying to bridge gaps between groups. It proved harder than I thought."
As for what happened to the $50,000-plus that the Federation had on hand when it filed its last tax return, Tasini says he simply doesn't remember what happened to it. "All I know is that we spent the grants exactly as we envisioned. It went to expenses and there was no money left when we stopped." If that's true, it's likely that Tasini still owes the IRS a tax return. New York state, which requires nonprofits operating in the state to file returns with the attorney general, only has a record of the Federation's 2002 and 2003 returns on file.
Anyway, surely if Tasini can find someone to pay him to write Strategic Power Analyses, he can find a way to squeeze some money out of Arianna Huffington. Good luck!
[Photo of Tasini via AP. Photo of Huffington via Getty Images]