PayPal freezes the finances of Burning Man's Temple crew (UPDATED)


PayPal has frozen the account of the Flux Foundation – a large crew of Bay Area artists and burners that is headed to the Black Rock Desert this week to build the most ambitious Temple in Burning Man's 25-year history – claiming the right to profit from the money until the group formally attains its nonprofit status from a backlogged federal government.

“All that money is just sitting there and we can't touch it,” says artist Jess Hobbs, referring to the tens of thousands of dollars that the crew has raised this summer through events and other fundraising drives to supplement an art grant from Black Rock City LLC that didn't come close to meeting the project's $180,000 budget.

PayPal -- which has been criticized for its secrecy, financial manipulation, and other corporate misbehavior -- was founded in San Jose in 1998 to facilitate online financial transactions and in 2002 was taken over by eBay, the company from which billionaire California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman acquired her wealth.

The company has not returned inquires from the Guardian made this morning. Hobbs and a crew that includes more than 200 other artists and burners have voluntarily worked almost every day this summer to build the Temple of Flux, a series of massive dunes that replicate peaks, canyons, caves, and other natural land forms – a project that I've been embedded with for a Guardian cover story that comes out Sept. 1.

“They will take the donations and their fees, but they won't give us our money until we get our nonprofit status,” Hobbs told a meeting of the crew last night at the American Steel warehouse in West Oakland, where they've been working on the project since early June, before she and other principle artists PK Kimelman and Rebecca Anders left for the playa today. “And the IRS is so backed up they're taking at least six months to give out nonprofit status.”

Hobbs and other Temple crew members are now scrambling for ways to support a difficult on-site build that will take more than two weeks to complete, including asking crew members for loans and encouraging everyone to put the word out to the community, hoping to find generous benefactors who can at least extend a bridge loan.

Burning Man crews and camps are traditionally informal groups, but given the scale of this project, the Temple of Flux crew this year tried to create a new model for fundraising and sustaining the organization beyond this year's Burning Man event by filing the voluminous paperwork required to create the nonprofit Flux Foundation.

But now, PayPal has thrown the effort into a real state of financial flux, taking its cut of nearly 3 percent but refusing to even explain why the corporation has deemed it necessary to freeze the group's finances.

UPDATE: PayPal has released the fund due to reader outcry. Read more here.


And it's money lenders.... oh wait...

Posted by Better in 96 on Aug. 12, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

Before I watch this entire thread spin out of control into a vortex of burner love / hate.... I just have to say that.... Paypal's move is morally wrong. It seems to me that the move had to have been done out of some kind of spitefulness or trying to push these people's buttons. In my book, their maneuver is just plain evil.

People deserve to be paid for their work, period. And if these people have spent months throwing fundraisers, that money is theirs, period.

Posted by Sitka on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

BM has every thing a big city lets start-up own pay pal with no profit taken out ....well less expence.......we have people from all forms of business who can and will do this......)*(.....

Posted by Camo on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

I just read the first few ignorant comments from people who don't know any better and realized my time was better spent on positivity.

There's a simple way to change this and trying to educate those who don't care and won't care is a waste of time.

Donate to get the Temple of Flux built, the project will prevail!

The man burns in 24 days!


Posted by Burn Baby Burn! on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

And this is why I hate you people: $180,000 to build and burn an art project in the middle of the desert, while money of that magnitude could go SO FAR if applied to your own backyards (like the one that lies literally in most SF burners' backyards: the Bayview). While you're enjoying your spiritual transcendence, spare a thought for the poor residents of SF who could have benefited (the THOUSANDS of them, considering the eye-popping amount spent just on the Temple), who could have had a better life for a year or more...

and the posters complaining about Burner DJ's are so on the mark it hurts. Bad music, no skills, zombified crowds whose only desire is to push that same button over, and over, and over lame. Ask any OG dubstep fan and you'll get an earful...

Posted by Guest on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

You would begrudge this group of artists the $180,000 because YOU know a better way to spend the money? Shows how misinformed you are.

I challenge you to read my comment, about nine or ten up from yours, where I provide links to projects Burners do when they're not in the desert. Consider the millions of dollars and man hours donated by Burners to help those in need, and to create public art that is not burned in a week.

In spite of everything we Burners do to contribute to society, I'm sure you will continue to hate us. Go ahead and make lazy generalizations, while we ignore your whining and continue to perform our good works during the other 357 days of the year.

Since you already decided how the "spiritual" folks at Burning Man should spend their $180,000, why don't you go around to every church, temple, and mosque in the USA and tell them they should not spend millions on those fancy buildings and statues and candlesticks when so many people don't have decent housing or jobs.

I see you think handing out $180,000 to thousands in Bayview is the right thing to the math....that comes to less than $100 per person....boy, that will solve all their problems! By the way, why do you hate it when people spend their hard-earned money any way they want? Are you one of those commies who want those with money to give handouts to those who don't?

Posted by east coast burner on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

I have a paypal account, and whenever possible, I transfer money RIGHT AWAY after I've received it. . paypal is not a bank, nor should you assume that it will ever be one. They can do whatever they want with it, make you jump through many hoops to get at YOUR MONEY. Very wrong. Use paypal as a holding place, but don't leave your money there for a long period of time... you see the results.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

But like the thought of anarchist convention or meeting slays me, these claims about heading off to join thousands of others to express yourself are pretty odd.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

What a crap article.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

I have not decided if I am going to go to Burning Man. I heard it isn't going to be that good this year anyway.


Posted by Guest on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

Think it would have been prudent for the stoners to get non-profit BEFORE they collected money?

Posted by Guest Jim on Aug. 11, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

"Stoners" are achievement-challenged. Most are cool with sitting around listening to music and chillaxing with their buds. They might have stoner discussions that start with, "dude, wouldn't it be cool if we went to Burning Man and built a gigantic ......?" Of course, the idea would go no further than that.

"Burners" are among the hardest-working people you'll ever meet. They don't raise funds for materials and then contract the work out to others. They climb and pound nails and sweat in the heat until their vision is complete. Look at the photo gallery at It is rare to see an overweight burner. So many are buff from all the hard physical labor. Not stoners at all, even if some of them do enjoy a joint at the end of a long day of work.

Stoners would never have developed the idea to the point of fund raising and applying for non-profit status. Your attempt to insult the temple builders fails.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2010 @ 5:58 am

Id like to say to all of those people expressing displeasure and dislike with Burning Man. Look for more L.O.V.E. in your heart. Listen to the words of Jesus, John Lennon, Al Green. love one another. Spread love. All you need is love. Love is so sweet. Burning man is an incredible experience. And if you look you will see loads and loads of love between humanity. And im not talking about sex. Love of art, dance, music, creativity, self-expression, of nature, and the human condition. You don't need costumes, drugs, or sex to enjoy your time at burning man. All you need is to open to give and accept love. it warms my heart just thinking about being there.

Posted by Blazing on Aug. 12, 2010 @ 7:15 am

Paypal's still susceptible to IRS rules, and the last thing the IRS is going to allow is the money to have moved tax-free in large (relative to one person's taxes) quantities without withheld taxes only to find out later that the organization is not qualified for tax free status, and now the money's all gone. I wouldn't be surprised if the IRS were to step in, now that this case has got some press, because somebody is probably liable from a regulation standpoint at Paypal. Regardless, despite a cause near and dear to my heart, as those of us who wanted to apply pressure to get those funds released (simply because I've been around those near the mental breaking point from such an intense project), don't flame Paypal too hard for adhering to some regulations. While they profit from money held, that is made possible through volume and automation. There's no money in engaging deliberately, even with a large amount, when they're going to have to go right out and stage press conferences to defend themselves. We want corporations that follow regulations even if it's just CYA, because it COA's as well. :)

Posted by Dex on Aug. 12, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

Global warming isn't happening fast enough. Let's burn more stuff.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 18, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

All burning man is in the end is a drug fueled rave with the majority of older people who used to rave in the 90's and that can afford to take a week off work\life and trip in the desert. You all put it on some pedestal as some artistic event but your only bullshitting yourselves. Its a rave pure and simple and its fueled by sex and drugs.

And yes I've been to a burn before and no I wasn't impressed. And yes i did rave in the 90's and had a ton of fun, sex and drugs so I know what I'm talking about.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 09, 2010 @ 6:38 am