Non-profit

Freedom Forum

Website:

www.freedomforuminstitute.org/freedom-forum/

Location:

Washington, DC

Tax ID:

54-1604427

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)-PF

Budget (2015):

Revenue: $13,313,028
Expenses: $42,281,719
Assets: $782,649,331

Formation:

1991

Type:

Non-Partisan Private Grantmaking Organization

President/CEO:

Jan Neuharth

Freedom Forum is an organization that sponsors programs focusing on matters regarding the First Amendment freedom of the press. The organization is best known as the chief funder for the Newseum, a museum dedicated to freedom of speech and press issues and the history of journalism in the United States and abroad that closed in December 2019.

The organization is also the chief funder for the Freedom Forum Institute, a think tank which advocates for freedom of the press. The organizations are based in Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Nashville, Tennessee.

History

Freedom Forum was founded in 1991 as a way to promote First Amendment liberties by Allen H. Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, at one point the most widely read newspaper in the United States. The organization was created when the Gannett Foundation—a grant-making entity related to the Gannet Company, one of the largest media conglomerates in the U.S. at the time—sold its assets and name to Gannett for around $670 million. Neuharth, who had been serving as the chair of the board of directors for the foundation used the money from the sale to found Freedom Forum which claimed a mission of fostering “free press, free speech, and free spirit.” [1]

Controversies

Officer Compensation

The original CEO of Freedom Forum, Charles Overby, was at the helm of the organization during much of a period of alleged overspending. Overby’s highest-paid years were 2011, in which he was compensated $638,000; 2012 when he made $987,000; and 2005, when he took home a $1.3 million salary. [2] [3]

Al Neuharth was also criticized for taking substantial compensation from the organization during his time as chair of the board of directors. Neuharth brought in compensation over $500,000 for a number of years; he took his highest personal compensation in 2012, when he brought in $602,000. [4]

James Duff took control as CEO of Freedom Forum after Overby stepped away. Duff also took large paychecks soon after his taking the position, bringing in $1.6-million in compensation, deferred payments, and expenses. Duff also served as the CEO for the Freedom Forum Institute and the Newseum. [5]

Newseum Expenses

Freedom Forum began the ambitious construction project of the Newseum journalism museum near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2001. The organization bought the last undeveloped plot of land on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House for $100 million and spent $377 million on the construction of the 635,000 square foot museum. While the museum saw some popularity shortly after its opening, ticket prices were more expensive than other museums in the city and the Newseum saw attendance and revenues sharply fall off. [6]

The Newseum closed its doors in December 2019. The endowment of Freedom Forum, which stood at $1.1 billion in 1999 had shrunk to $340 million in 2013. Newseum went through a number of rounds of staff cuts and other financial repairs but still came out behind and decided that it would close for the time being. After closing its doors in 2019, the organization sold the building to the Johns Hopkins University for $372.5 million, less than the Freedom Forum reportedly paid to build it. [7]

Board members of Freedom Forum and Newseum have claimed that the museum will reopen its doors elsewhere in the future.

New York State Financial Settlement

In 1994, Freedom Forum reached a settlement with the New York State Attorney General’s Office under which the trustees of Freedom Forum (including Al Neuharth) reimbursed nearly $174,000 to the organization amid allegations of lavish expenses. The majority of these instances were officers of the organization using funds for lavish travel and accommodations; however, Al Neuharth agreed to return an additional $30,000 to the organization to repay it for the purchase 2,000 copies of his autobiography, Confessions of an S.O.B., allegedly in order to help the book make bestseller lists. [8]

Also cited in the report of the New York State Attorney General were multiple aspects of the lavish $17-million headquarters for the foundation and expensive travel and housing expenses. These include a carved stone staircase at the headquarters, and travel for employees and their spouses to cities which were hosting major sporting events at the time. [9]

Freedom Forum Institute

The Freedom Forum Institute is a sister organization of Freedom Forum which serves as a parent organization to the Religious Freedom Center, First Amendment Center, and Newseum’s education department. Each department aims to interpret and educate the public regarding different aspects of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Religious Freedom Center

The Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute works to educate the public regarding religious rights defined within the First Amendment. The center is funded in part through the Freedom Forum endowment but also receives grants from outside organizations. Some of these organizations include the ACLU, one of the largest social-liberal advocacy and litigation organizations in the United States, and the Arcus Foundation, a large, left-of-center environmentalist and LGBT-advocacy organization. [10]

The Religious Freedom Center aims to spread its stance on the First Amendment clause on religion through its partnerships with postsecondary schools with which they work to convey these stances. The organization also works with prominent civic leaders in local governments and leaders from churches, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship to educate members of religious communities. [11]

First Amendment Center

The First Amendment Center is a project of the Freedom Forum Institute which aims to educate Americans about their First Amendment rights through a variety of media. First Five is a newsletter and online podcast produced by the First Amendment Center which covers major news regarding first amendment rights. The organization also sponsors an annual moot court competition for law students which covers First Amendment issues. [12]

The First Amendment Center was founded by John Seigenthaler in 1991. Seigenthaler was a journalist who worked in a variety of reporter and editor positions at a number of outlets. He also served as an administrative assistant to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. His work with Kennedy focused on civil rights, leading him to work with the Freedom Riders in Alabama, eventually negotiating directly with the governor of the state regarding the enforcement of anti-segregation laws in the South. [13]

Newseum

The Newseum was a museum and connected organization located in Washington D.C. which focused on the history of journalism in America. The museum closed its doors in December, 2019. [14]

The Newseum housed a broad array of exhibits ranging from pieces of the Berlin Wall and the destroyed World Trade Center to an exhibit solely dedicated to the Will Ferrell film Anchorman. After closing the doors to its physical museum in December 2019, the organization has shifted focus towards online and travelling exhibits. [15]

Finances

The organization held total assets of $432,765,141 at the end of 2017. This total is much lower than the all-time high $1.3-billion endowment that the organization held in the late 1990s.

Originally one of the largest grantmaking foundations in the United States, the organization has changed its mission to transfer most of its funds between related entities. The organization made a grant of $6,858,440 to Newseum Institute, the official name for the Freedom Forum Institute, in 2017. The organization also made a grant of $24,363,267 to Newseum Inc., the 501(c)(3) organization which managed the Newseum when it was still operation in 2017. These were the only grants made in 2017, according to tax returns for Freedom Forum. [16]

In 2018, the organization also made two extremely large grants to related entities. The first was made to Newseum Inc. and amounted to $26,583,292, while the second was made to the Freedom Forum Institute, amounting to $8,128,738. The organization also made a $75,000 grant to the University of South Dakota in the same year. The grant was aimed to be used for scholarships for journalism students. [17]

Board of Directors and Staff

Allen H. Neuharth was the founder of Freedom Forum. Neuharth stepped away from the organization in 2011 shortly before his death and his daughter, Jan Neuharth, taking control of the organization. Allen Neuharth was the founder and CEO of the USA Today network of newspapers and online news outlets and also worked as the CEO for Gannett Media Holdings, a $3 billion media conglomerate which controls a vast number of regional journalism outlets as well as the USA Today brand. [18]

Jan Neuharth is the CEO and chair of the board of directors for Freedom Forum. She was educated as an attorney at the University of Vanderbilt University Law School and went on to practice with Paul Hastings LLP. Neuharth has been complimented on her decision to take a much smaller paycheck as compared to past CEOs and other officers of the organization. Neuharth was compensated only $164,109 in 2017, $94,872 in 2016, and $57,887 in 2015, respectively. In 2018, however, Neuharth’s salary was more than double that in 2017. She took home $420,171 including her benefit plan funds and expense accounts. [19][20]

Gene Policinski is the COO and president of the Freedom Forum Institute. He was one of the original editors for USA Today where he made a connection with Al Neuharth and was recruited to work for Freedom Forum. [21]

Charles Overby is the former CEO of Freedom Forum. Overby resigned from his positions at the Freedom Forum and related entities in 2012, handing control over to Jan Neuharth, daughter of Al Neuharth, founder of the organization. Overby previously worked as an editor and reporter for the Gannett Company.

He won a Pulitzer Prize whilen the editor of the Jackson Clarion Ledger in Mississippi for its coverage of education reform in the state. Overby now heads the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, a project of the University of Mississippi, from which Overby is a graduate, which awards scholarships to journalism students at the University and invites guest speakers to cover issues relating to journalism, often with an emphasis on issues in the southern United States. Freedom Forum made a $5 million grant to the University of Mississippi in 2001, after which the center was named for Overby. [22][23]

References

  1. “The Freedom Forum’s Shrinking Endowment.” Heyboer, Kelly. American Journalism Review. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://ajrarchive.org/Article.asp?id=2414&id=2414 ^
  2. 2011 IRS 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Freedom Forum. Part VIII, Section 1. ^
  3. 2005 IRS 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Freedom Forum. Part VIII, Section 1. ^
  4. 2012 IRS 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Freedom Forum. Part VIII, Section 1. ^
  5. 2011 IRS 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Freedom Forum. Part VIII, Section 1. ^
  6. “Uncertain future for journalism’s monument to itself as Newseum’s DC building sold.” Yilek, Caitlin. Accessed January 17, 2020. Washington Examiner. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/uncertain-future-for-journalisms-monument-to-itself-as-newseums-dc-building-sold. ^
  7. “The Newseum was a grand tribute to the power of journalism. Here’s how it failed.” McGlone, Peggy; Roig-Franzia, Manuel. Washington Post. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20190202091827/https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/the-newseum-was-a-grand-tribute-to-the-power-of-journalism-heres-how-it-failed/2019/02/01/aeeb2482-25a4-11e9-81fd-b7b05d5bed90_story.html?utm_term=.93441c9a6f6c. ^
  8. “Trustees to Pay Freedom Forum $174,000.” Farhi, Paul. Washington Post. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/12/29/trustees-to-pay-freedom-forum-174000/95f20bf6-7d10-4981-8e49-31ca711b44af/. ^
  9. “Trustees to Pay Freedom Forum $174,000.” Farhi, Paul. Washington Post. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/12/29/trustees-to-pay-freedom-forum-174000/95f20bf6-7d10-4981-8e49-31ca711b44af/. ^
  10. “Partners.” Religious Freedom Center. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://www.religiousfreedomcenter.org/about/partners/ ^
  11. “Effective Religious and Civic Leadership.” Religious Freedom Institute. Accessed January 20, 2020. https://www.religiousfreedomcenter.org/programs/. ^
  12. “About.” First Amendment Center. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/. ^
  13. “About the Founder.” Freedom Forum Institute. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/about-the-first-amendment-center/about-the-founder/^
  14. “The Newseum is Closing after 12 Years in Washington.” Stelter, Brian. CNN News. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/13/media/newseum-closing/index.html. ^
  15. “Newseum’s ‘Anchorman’ Exhibit. Gavin, Patrick. Politico. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/newseum-anchorman-099824 ^
  16. 2017 IRS Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Freedom Forum. Part XV, section 3: Grants Made. ^
  17. 2018 IRS Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Freedom Forum. Part XV, section 3: Grants Made. ^
  18. “Al Neuharth.” Freedom Forum. Accessed January 19, 2020. https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/freedom-forum/al-neuharth/. ^
  19. “Jan Neuharth.” Freedom Forum. Accessed January 19, 2020. https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/freedom-forum/jan-neuharth/ ^
  20. IRS 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Freedom Forum. Part VIII, Section 1. ^
  21. “GENE POLICINSKI.” Freedom Forum Institute. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/experts/bio/47/. ^
  22. “Charles Overby Profile.” Overby Center. Accessed January 17, 2020. http://www.overbycenter.org/charlesoverbyprofile.html   ^
  23. “Ole Miss Journalism gets $5 Million.” Grenada Star. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.grenadastar.com/2001/08/29/ole-miss-journalism-gets-5-million/. ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: January 1, 1992

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2015 Dec Form PF $13,313,028 $42,281,719 $782,649,331 $365,179,807 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2014 Dec Form PF $28,422,177 $49,006,891 $804,526,021 $362,636,085 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2013 Dec Form PF $21,191,788 $49,467,918 $686,026,278 $347,250,830 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2012 Dec Form PF $7,888,369 $56,055,317 $723,526,578 $383,857,664 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2011 Dec Form PF $8,191,139 $54,946,735 $789,874,722 $416,166,606 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Freedom Forum

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