In its recently released IRS 990 reports for 2011, the National Organization for Marriage says its president Brian Brown received a salary and benefits package totaling $253,917 and works an average of 80 hours a week as the head of NOM and its affiliated charitable arm, the NOM Education Fund.
D.C. attorney Marcus Owens, a nationally recognized expert on 990 reporting requirements who formerly headed the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt organizations, told the Blade that claims of an 80-hour work week could raise a red flag for the IRS and possibly prompt the tax agency to conduct an audit of NOM.
“Nobody works 80 hours a week on something like this,” Owens said.
But NOM communications director Thomas Peters said in a statement released to the Blade that Brown often puts in more than 80 hours in a week.
“Since no CEO punches a time clock, the intent of the completed forms is to show that Mr. Brown works tirelessly for both NOM’s c4 (through which he is paid) and the c3,” he said.
“In fact there are many weeks he works in excess of 80 hours for NOM while others are certainly less than 80 hours,” Peters said. “Only during the rare vacation does he work less than 40 hours in a week.”
Since its founding in 2008, NOM has emerged as the leading organization opposing legalization of marriage for same-sex couples. It has raised millions of dollars for state ballot measures seeking to ban same-sex marriage.
Peters was referring to the IRS tax code that classifies tax-exempt charitable organizations as a 501 (c)(3) organization, which allows contributors to write off their donations as a tax deduction; and a tax-exempt political organization, like NOM, Inc., which is listed as a 501 (c)(4) group, whose contributors cannot write off their donations.
Owens said groups like NOM that have overlapping staffs for their c3 and c4 entities and where the two entities share the same office are required to keep careful records that separate their expenses and income and ensure that the c3 group doesn’t subsidize the c4 group.
Since the c3 group receives donations that are tax deductible it usually has an easier task of raising money than the c4 group, Owens said. He said the c4 group is allowed to subsidize the c3 group but not vice versa.
“What I advise organizations when they have that sort of dual structure is to make it clear on the 990 that they do track expenses for each organization because otherwise you’re setting yourself up for speculation and a possible IRS audit just to see what’s going on,” he said. “There should be a cost sharing arrangement between the two organizations and employees ought to be keeping time sheets to show which hat they’re wearing when they do something.”
The 990 forms filed by NOM for 2011 show both of its entities are located in the same suite of offices on K Street, N.W.
Owens confirmed that NOM spokesperson Peters was correct when he told the Blade in an earlier statement that gay rights advocate and NOM critic Fred Karger issued a press release on Jan. 30 that incorrectly claimed that Brown’s salary and benefits exceeded $500,000. Owens noted that Karger apparently misread NOM’s 2011 990 form for its c3 NOM Education Fund.
All 990 forms have two columns for reporting salary and compensation – one for the organization for which the 990 applies and another column for income and compensation from “related organizations.” NOM’s 990 report for the c3 Education Fund group includes an entry of $230,000 in compensation and $23,917 in “other” compensation, such as benefits, in the column designated for “related organizations,” which, in this case, means salary and benefits from NOM, Inc., the c4 entity.
“It can get pretty hard to understand,” said Owens, who noted that understanding the 990 forms is difficult for the untrained eye.
“Fred Karger has made another embarrassing mistake, which is typical of someone whose stock and trade is the reckless charge,” Peters said in the earlier statement.
Karger, who filed an ethics complaint against NOM before the Maine election regulatory agency in 2009 that led to a finding of a campaign reporting violation, said it was NOM that has been reckless in “concealing” its finances.
“They stonewall as much as they can until they’re forced to release information,” he said.
Peters said NOM believes its 990 reports for 2011 are in proper order.
“If the IRS has any questions about this, we will be happy to discuss it with them,” he said. “If they inquire we will certainly take the opportunity to ask them about the status of the criminal investigation into NOM’s stolen income tax return, which appears to have come from the IRS and given to our opponents.”
He was referring to a NOM IRS filing that was leaked to the Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBT advocacy group that released the leaked information that caused embarrassment for NOM.