The organizers behind the December charity pub crawl lovingly dubbed SantaCon appear to be a little heavier on the con than the spirit of giving.
Over the last decade, the group’s organizers claim to have raised more than $1 million for charitable causes, according to their website, but not much of that money seems to have gone to charity. Instead, they blew more than a third of the funds on bad crypto investments and groups tied to Burning Man, ultimately giving less than a fifth of that money to actual nonprofits, according to a Gothamist analysis of the group’s financial documents.
The group’s biggest act of giving—more than $66,000—went to a for-profit film production crew called Spectaculum Productions, which made the medical fraud documentary At Your Cervix.
The lion’s share of the money raised by SantaCon—$832,000, or 59 percent—goes to maintenance, according to the group’s founder and director, Stefan Pildes, who told Gothamist that the bills add up for the single-day event, citing expenditures like temporary staff, street permits, and D.J.s.
“It’s not a small undertaking,” Pildes said.
SantaCon falls under the helm of a tax-exempt nonprofit, Participatory Safety. And while anybody can join the citywide bar hop for free, they also offer participants a $15 “Santa Badge” that comes with additional benefits. That has helped the outfit grow tremendously, though the money is specifically described as set aside for “Santa’s charity drive,” according to SantaCon’s website.
“Regardless of what they want to label it, throwing the party is not a charitable activity,” Lloyd Mayer, a Notre Dame University Law School professor, told the outlet. “It’s great to go to this party, right? But don’t pat yourself on the back that you’re helping out the Girl Scouts.” SantaCon organizers and participants regularly tout their group’s charitable side as a shield against allegations that it is a drunken free-for-all that leaves parts of New York City filthy. Even without any waste—and there seems to be quite a bit of it—it’s a lackluster charitable organization, raising barely more than $100,000 a year.