Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pop Quiz | Gannett Foundation exec gifts 2012!

Illustrations hint at charities favored by top execs. See quiz, below.

Right in time for Thanksgiving, I've just obtained a copy of the Gannett Foundation's 2012 IRS tax return, the annual report that reveals the highs and lows of the company's philanthropic arm.

For Gannett Blog virgins, the foundation has a history of curious (ahem) contributions made to non-profit groups at the behest of current and retired executives. Their employee benefits include the right to earmark up to $15,000 annually for any of their favorite charities. But they're not required to pony up any of their own money to exercise that benefit. That's different than the employee GannettMatch program for all the little people, who must first make a contribution before the foundation will match it to a maximum $10,000 per year.

All the rest of the foundation's grants go to non-profits in communities where the nation's top newspaper publisher does business. As with many companies, that makes the foundation an extension of Gannett's public relations operation. (Indeed, the foundation's executive director is Debra Goetz, the company's vice president of marketing, according to the IRS return.)

Here's the fine print
The IRS tax returns are public documents under federal open-records laws. They're the most detailed reports charitable foundations must make public every year. For the Gannett Foundation, the documents only disclose names of executives under their special program. The returns don't identify individual employees using GannettMatch. (Read and download a free 116-page copy of the 2012 return.)

The exec-driven contributions open a rare window on their philanthropic priorities: for example, how closely they favor personal interests such as their alma maters (hi, retired CEO Doug McCorkindale!) or their dedication to actual journalism (Chief Digital Officer David Payne!).

This spreadsheet lists 43 contributions earmarked last year by 15 top executives totaling $215,000. (Chief Financial Officer Victoria Harker directed just $5,000; she came to Gannett only midway through the year.) Click on the "2011" tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet to see a list of the previous year's gifts.

Now for that pop quiz
Which executives chose which non-profits?
  1. Center for Reproductive Rights: $1,000. (I sure didn't see this one coming: "Our groundbreaking cases before national courts, United Nations committees, and regional human rights bodies have expanded access to reproductive health care, including birth control, safe abortion, prenatal and obstetric care, and unbiased information.")
  2. University of Texas Foundation for support of the College of Communications' Innovation Fund: $15,000. (Obvious hint: The university's other programs include the Craig A. & Denise W. Dubow Endowed Presidential Scholarship.)
  3. Indiana University Clown Science Program: $7,500. ("Licensed clown science practitioners provide humor therapy in a variety of settings.")
  4. Glimmerglass Opera: $1,500. (Show tunes! "The company’s mission is to produce new, little-known and familiar operas and works of music theater in innovative productions.")
  5. Wellesley College: $10,000. (Longtime readers will say: "Duh!" For everyone else: "Wellesley is known for the thousands of accomplished, thoughtful women it has sent out into the world for over 100 years -- women who are committed to making a difference.")
(Answers are in the comments section, below.)

Earlier: Gannett Foundation gives $1,200 to Focus on the Family, founded by the conservative evangelical minister James Dobson.

This is now, that was then
The Gannett Foundation is actually the organization's second incarnation. The original was renamed Freedom Forum two decades ago when the late Gannett CEO Al Neuharth, facing the prospect of retirement spent riding an adult-sized tricycle in Cocoa Beach, Fla., got other ideas. (Way, way too complicated to explain here. But you can get a flavor of what's happened since then.)

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. Pop quiz answers:

    1. Maryam Banikarim, chief marketing officer. A curious choice, since she’s in charge of PR and this contribution courts controversy.

    2. Well, yes: retired CEO Craig Dubow, class of 1977.

    3. Trick question! I made this one up to throw you off.

    4. Retired labor relations chief Wendell Van Lare.

    5. Groan. CEO Gracia Martore, class of 1973.

  2. How does a radical anti-life campaign group even qualify? How does contributing to a political advocacy organization not violate the Gannett ethics policy?

  3. Leaving aside personal opinions about abortion, the question of political advocacy is a good one. I assume Right to Life therefore qualifies, for the Foundation or the peon match.

    1. The GannettMatch program says employee gifts are ineligible for a match when they are intended to “carry on propaganda, to attempt to influence legislation or the outcome of any public election, to carry on, whether directly or indirectly, any voter registration drive.”

      The Community Action Grants program will not give to “programs or initiatives where the primary purpose is the promotion of religious doctrine or tenets” or to “political action or legislative advocacy groups.”

      But there are no such restrictions listed for the executive grants program on the foundation’s website or in any of the company’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Indeed, until I started writing about it, Gannett hadn’t made the program’s existence public.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. There's a lot of gray area between general advocacy and partisan political advocacy under IRS regulations for groups like the Gannett Foundation known as 501(c)(3) tax-exempt groups.

    Churches are a good example. Ministers can rail from the pulpit against (or for) issues like gay marriage or contraception. But their churches can't contribute to political campaigns advocating on those subjects.

    So, in the example here, the Center for Reproductive Rights can to conduct general public awareness campaigns on contraception, abortion, etc. But it can't pay for billboards saying vote for this or that candidate.

    That is, it can't unless it wants to risk losing its tax-exempt status. Ditto for the Gannett Foundation. There are even tighter controls for private foundations like Gannett's. This is from the Center for Non-Profits:

    "Under federal law and regulations, with narrowly drawn exceptions, private foundations are prohibited from lobbying and can incur severe tax penalties and possible loss of tax-exempt status for doing so. However, foundations can communicate with government officials in ways that do not constitute lobbying. IRS lobbying regulations also allow private foundations, without penalty, to make general support grants to publicly supported charities that do some lobbying, provided the grant is not earmarked for lobbying purposes. A private foundation may also make special purpose grants for projects that involve lobbying as long as the grant is not earmarked for lobbying purposes, and the grant does not exceed the nonlobbying amount of the project budget. IRS regulations also provide protection for foundations that make grants in accordance with IRS guidelines to charities that later lose their tax exemption because of excess lobbying."

  6. WTF!!! A "marketing director" doesn't know any better than to potentially create controversy like that for the company???? It's only a thousand dollars.

    1. When she got the job, I assumed Job 1 would be making sure the foundation stayed focused solely on boosting Gannett's image where it does business and before rank and file employees.

      In: community grants to Red Cross, Girl Scouts, anti-poverty efforts.

      Out: the entire executive grants program, which they can't seem to operate without causing problems.

      I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Why not devote all this $215,000 to the foundation's Madelyn Jennings college scholarship program? It's still awarding only 13 scholarships at $3,000 each per year -- a grand total of $39,000 available to a company with 30,000 employees.

      Martore & Co. and easily afford to make these contributions with their own money. When employees are struggling to afford college for their kids, spending like this is just disgraceful.

    2. Responsibility for administering the foundation falls within her purview—all the more reason she should know better.

    3. Outstanding point Jim!

    4. Business as usual for Martore and friends. When you're special, you get to do whatever you want. Unfortunately, the let them eat cake attitude eventually comes back to haunt you.

  7. Knew there was a reason I liked David Payne.

  8. Some gadfly shareholder needs to raise a stink about their money being channeled to extraneous causes they don't support. The 15 grand, even though tax-free, can't possibly be a material consideration for the execs who benefit.

  9. Embarassed to work for theses dumbasses11/27/2013 9:56 AM

    Good reporting Jim- The Indiana University Clown Sciences Program? Successful completion of that program must be a prerequisite for becoming a Gannett executive.These privileged people obviously are incapable of shame or embarrassment and are a disgrace to the company and to humanity in general. Shame on you all!.

    1. Yeah, I agree. The Indiana University Clown Sciences program has been the single best feeder program for Gannett executives.

  10. How bout these ethics - Cincinnati LIC bosses pressuring reporters to volunteer for a "Christian ministry" the editor-in-chief's husband works for.

    1. Habitat for Humanity? We got written memos from the Senior Editor/News and the Publisher both.

  11. whats that all about


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