Sunday, October 17, 2010

BAR: GetEQUAL Won't Release Expense Info

Since at least 1998, the editors and reporters at the Bay Area Reporter have performed a tremendous service to the local community when they write about the budgets and salaries of gay and AIDS orgs. When new executives are hired or old ones leave, the BAR notes their pay level, and it is common for the paper to report on an org's annual revenue and expenses, as listed on the group's IRS 990 tax filing. Unfortunately, such exemplary accountability reporting is not standard practice at other gay newspapers and lots of gay bloggers ignore compensation and budgetary matters, as part of their routine coverage.

The current BAR, in a front-page above-the-fold story about GetEQUAL's zap of President Barack Obama at a fundraiser in Miami, written by Seth Hemmelgarn who I applaud, not only looked at the impact of the zap, but also delved into the org's murky finances:

As has been reported, GetEqual's start up funds came from Jonathan Lewis, the son of one of the founders of the Progressive auto insurance group. He has provided most of the money that has kept GetEqual going since it started in March.

In a phone interview, Cronk estimated Lewis had contributed $400,000, "certainly no more than $440,000." Lewis couldn't be reached for comment.

GetEqual's budget is around $500,000 this year. Cronk said that money comes from a combination of Lewis's initial grant, and what they've raised online.

That figure doesn't comport with the $600,000 number reported in a Metro Weekly article looking at the top Gay Inc political orgs and how paid, well-funded advocacy is evolving. The BAR tried to pry loose a few facts about GetEQUAL's expenses, but it was like trying to get Obama to be the Fierce Advocate to the gays that he promised he would be during the campaign:

Cronk said the group doesn't break down its expenses by how much it spends on things like airfare. Instead, they're separated by program or action. During a recent interview, she didn't have immediate access to the information and said, "I wouldn't want to publish that in the paper."

"That's not the story of what we're doing," she explained. Cronk said no donor has asked for an expense breakdown. She wouldn't comment on whether such information would be provided if someone did ask for it.

"It feels a little bit like you're trying to trap me in something," she said.

Whoa, a gay reporter for San Francisco's leading paper is simply attempting to bring some fiscal transparency to this org, and the co-director gets all paranoid. Cronk's way of thinking, "hide the info from the community," is right out of the GLAAD playbook regarding its tortured refusal to release the executive director Jarrett Barrios' compensation info. Click here for the BAR story on that bit of GLAAD non-transparency.

To their credit, GetEQUAL's robustly compensated co-directors will adhere to federal transparency laws, and they share some pay info on their site:

In an e-mail, Cronk also said, "We will do everything we need to do in order to be in compliance with the IRS," which requires tax-exempt groups like GetEqual to disclose expense data.

The group does make some salary data available on its website. Robin McGehee, director and co-founder, has a salary of $89,000. Kip Williams, another co-founder and the group's operations and technology lead, gets about $58,000. Cronk's salary, which isn't posted on the group's site, is $70,000. [...]

The BAR mentioned that Cronk previously worked for a progressive training outfit in Washington called the New Organizing Institute, and GetEQUAL's site notes that Williams attended sessions there. More than four months ago, I contacted NOI's executive director Judith Freeman because her org's site provides no fiscal transparency whatsoever. Nothing about salaries, budgets or expenses, and the org's IRS 990s are neither posted on their site not linked to at the GuideStar site.

Freeman promised in an email to me that many of NOI's tax filings would be posted, but just like the GetEQUAL leaders, she omitted a timeline for when this act of transparency would occur:

We can't currently edit those pages on our website because we are in the middle of getting the IRS determination letters, and they can't be different then the pages we had to get the lawyers to write the text for and (believe it or not!) PRINT OUT and postal mail to the IRS.

When we get those legal docs, I assure you, we want to put up all the 990s and probably more than folks could ever want. [...]

So far, not a single IRS 990 filing has been shared by Freeman. Seeing how NOI is great at mouthing flowery speech about transparency and accountability, and not delivering, I believe they set a lousy model that is now being followed by Cronk and GetEQUAL.

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