Thursday, December 08, 2011

Freedom Forum's new chair has a familiar name; quiet board reshuffle keeps a Neuharth in control

Barely three months after retiring as Freedom Forum's long-time CEO, Charles Overby has now quietly left the powerful and high-paying chairmanship of the Washington foundation's governing board, too.

But observers hoping for major governance reform under new CEO James Duff may be disappointed. In Overby's place, the 10-member board has apparently just elected trustee Jan Neuharth as its new chairman, according to a roster of trustees updated yesterday on the non-profit's website.

Neuharth, of course, is the eldest daughter of Al Neuharth, who launched Freedom Forum 20 years ago after retiring as Gannett's chairman and chief executive. Neuharth, 87, has at times treated it more like a private family foundation than one entrusted with millions in charitable assets for the public good.

The revised roster also shows another trustee, Peter Prichard, has been elected chairman of the non-profit's affiliated Newseum, a museum about news with its own governing body. Prichard is the former president of the foundation and the museum, and is a retired USA Today editor. He's also one of founder Neuharth's loyalists.

Freedom Forum's online news section doesn't include any statements directly acknowledging the shake-up, reflecting the foundation's tendency to sometimes operate with undue secrecy.

Although Overby, 65, is no longer chairman, he remains a member of both the foundation's and museum's governing boards. Six other Freedom Forum trustees who also are close to Al Neuharth remain on the board, too.

When the foundation announced Duff's hiring as CEO, no mention was made of Overby's future as chairman -- a key position because chairs often set the agenda for boards, which have authority to set overall strategic direction and hire and fire key personnel.

Non-profit boards are typically self-perpetuating, unlike publicly owned enterprises such as Gannett, where shareholders have a say in elections. Freedom Forum's new board leadership potentially keeps the Neuharth family in control for another generation, substantially reducing chances the foundation will pursue a different mission.

A mystery novelist
Jan Neuharth, an attorney by training, owns an equestrian center, Paper Chase Farms, in Middleburg, Va., not far from Gannett's headquarters. She also writes mystery novels with fox-hunting country themes.

Neuharth received a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida in 1977, and a law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1982, according to her LinkedIn profile.

It's unclear how much she, Prichard and Duff are getting paid in their respective positions. The foundation's latest public tax report is for 2010, so doesn't reflect their new appointments. However, that year, Overby got paid about $479,000 in salary and benefits as chairman and CEO, the report says. He also had a $124,000 expense account.

Freedom Forum is the original Gannett Foundation. Nearing retirement in the late 1980s, Al Neuharth took over the foundation and its endowment of Gannett stock, valued at $650 million in 1991. He then relaunched it under a new name and mission -- free press and free speech -- led by one of his former company lieutenants, Overby.

In recent years, Freedom Forum has devoted virtually all its resources to the Newseum, eating into its income-producing endowment of stocks, bonds and other investments. The museum re-opened in 2008 in new $450 million quarters that cost considerably more than originally planned. At the end of last year, the endowment's portfolio was worth about $420 million. That's less than half its $900 million value in 2000, when the Newseum building project began.

As founder, Neuharth continues to draw a handsome paycheck, too. Last year, the tax report shows, Freedom Forum paid him a $225,000 salary plus another $286,003 for expenses. That made him the highest-paid staff employee.


  1. So much for Overby's successor Jim Duff being a reformer. Another insider who will keep his mouth shut and cash his paychecks as the foundation slips away. Can anyone explain how the Freedom Forum can justify keeping offices in Nashville (Ken Paulson finally put out to pasture?) and SoDak? Meanwhile, there are Groupon and freebies for the Newsuem just to keep up appearances with attendance. One visit is more than enough. They can't afford new exhibits. Real cash flow is from renting to the likes of Arianna for swank parties catered by the overrated Wolfgang Puck or to ABC for Christiane Amanpour's mediocre show. Hmmm...not to get political, but all mentioned in this post are members of the 1 percent crowd.

  2. The so called charitable legacy of Gannett is as rotten as the company that spawned it. Keep digging, Jim. They have to file tax reports at some point.

  3. PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff remains a trustee of the foundation and the Newseum. That suggests she probably supported Jan Neuharth's election. Why?

  4. Where did you get the 2010 public returns I dont see them posted yet on guidestar. I only see 2009 so I dont know how you know how much people were paid in 2010...

  5. More than half a million to Big Al for what? Enlarging his prostate? Losing bone density? Come on, what does he do besides loot the till?

  6. 9:51, no digging is required to see tax returns from charitable foundations. Those are available to the public.

    Clearly you don't know that.

    10:47, don't assume Jim has the numbers and the years right. He's messed those up before. Then he sneaks in a change later.

  7. Definitely not assuming he has numbers right I just want to make sure he acknowledges his error unless he has some insider information....

  8. 9:51 Freedom Forum and Newseum have been filing their IRS returns late in the year following the period covered. So, the 2011 returns should be publicly available in late 2012.

    10:47 I requested the 2010 returns from Freedom Forum and the Newseum. Guidestar is a wonderful resource, but its filings aren't always up to date.

    11:12 is mistaken. I don't engage in scrubbing; it's unethical.

    When I correct or update matter, I say so, using boldface type, [brackets] or strike-through typefaces.

  9. What Al did in creating the Freedom Forum was a triumph of ego, no surprise there, but a crime against all the communities served by Gannett who could have benefitted from the support of a much more robust Gannett Foundation. It used to be a given that our newspaper would be a part of every major community and charitable initiative (such as a new wing of a museum, a display at a children's center, a performing arts center, United Way) because it could tap into Gannett Foundation monies that wouldn't touch our bottom line. Since Al made off with all the money, and what was created in its place was funded by our stock, we can't do these things anymore, or at least not at the same level we used to, or as many as we used to.

    Just think of the good we could be doing in the communities we serve if the old Gannett Foundation hadn't been hijacked? I love the Newseum and admire the First Amendment work of the Forum. I just wish those things hadn't come at the expense of my local newspaper making investments in things in my community.

    Meanwhile, one more thought: Hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid per year to Al? Really? Is there no higher, better use of that money? Is he still really adding value to the organization that demands that level of pay? Do we really need to be funnelling that much money to one guy, whose already received millions in compensation from the charity? And his daughter is really the most qualified chairman of the board that we could locate, given our vast connectivity in the industry?

    Last thought, really: My paper's total charitable giving pool via Gannett Foundation: $12,000ish. The "new" Gannett Foundation gives four times that amount in a perk to each top Crystal Palace exec for him/her to personally designate a charity of her/his choice, no matter where is it located (Gannett or non-Gannett market, or whether it is in sync or separate to what we support as a company).

  10. 2:01 is correct about how the Freedom Forum's move away from community grants, in favor of the Newseum, has hurt the cities and towns where the original Gannett Foundation once was much more active. Employees, too.

    Consider this: the current Gannett Foundation has, I believe, just one employee. And I doubt they're paid very much.

    Freedom Forum, on the other hand, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on salaries, benefits and expense accounts for Overby, Neuharth, etc.

    And that's just a fraction of its overall operating expenses, which don't include the tens of millions it gives to the Newseum each year.

    That money for big paychecks could have been going toward, if nothing else, college scholarship funds for children of Gannett employees whose jobs are endangered -- but only if Neuharth and Overby hadn't repurposed the Gannett Foundation 20 years ago.

    And now, with Jan Neuharth in charge, there will almost certainly be more of the same.

  11. Hey 10:47 and 9:51. If you're such guidestar experts and Jim-haters, can you explain why the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center appears to be out of compliance and has revoked status? Maybe they were just rolled into the overall Freedom Forum budget.

  12. 3:48 It was, indeed rolled into FF.

  13. Well then since youre asking them for stuff I for one would be interested in some financial statements don't charities have to make them available on request or something.... Annual audits?


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