At the heart of this is a big and continuing issue: What kinds of organizations deserve tax exempt status? And what are their obligations to the public as tax exempt entities? The NFL’s position, that it wants exempt status but desires to escape the transparency and disclosure rules that apply to all other nonprofits, epitomizes the burgeoning issue in this nation of exactly what tax exempt nonprofit status means.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that the NFL is willing to reveal the salary of Commissioner Roger Goodell—in the realm of $10 million a year—as it has done for several years, but not the names and salaries of other key staff of the football monopoly. The NFL’s fear is that the new 990 will require even entities like 501(c)(6) trade associations—that’s what the NFL is—to disclose that kind of information as tax exempt entities, even though donations to (c)(6) organizations, unlike 501(c)(3)s, are not tax deductible as charitable gifts.
According to the NFL, some 25 staff people would be listed as making more than $125,000 salaries. The NFL is concerned that publishing the names and salaries of these employees would violate their personal privacy rights. Just to be helpful, the NFL has approached the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)—basically the trade association of trade associations—to get a bill introduced that would exempt the NFL and all other 501(c)(6) trade associations from this heinous requirement.
Someone might want to help the NFL with messaging, given this explanation by the NFL’s vice president for communications and public affairs: “I’ve been here 40 years. I finally get to the point where I’m making 150 grand, and they want to put my name and address on the form so the lawyer next door who makes a million dollars can laugh at me…A hundred and fifty thousand here is not the same as it is in Dubuque, Iowa or West Texas.” That’s a very touching sentiment (the VP in question is referring to New York City in contrast to Dubuque).
What’s wrong with the anti-transparency position of the NFL suits? A few obvious points come to mind:
Big Nonprofit Money: The NFL is a tax exempt organization with annual revenues of $6.9 billion. The American public has a right to k