The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has steadily increased the fees paid to members for various tasks related to the Golden Globe Awards, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times that could raise tax questions for the nonprofit journalism organization and its members.
The small, close-knit HFPA has long been scrutinized for many of its practices, particularly as its signature Golden Globes Awards has grown in influence, viewership and license fees from NBC. Much of that focus has been on the wining and dining of HFPA members, and how much expensive trips to film and TV sets, swag and other perks influence the Globes’ nomination and voting process.
But in a new story published by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, the org’s growing practice of paying high fees to many of its 87 members for various tasks, including serving on committees and moderating panels, has raised eyebrows both in and out of the HFPA.
According to the newspaper, the HFPA has budgeted US$2.15 million (approx. $2.7 million) in its current fiscal year (which ends in June 2021) to pay members for various reasons. The paper noted that two dozen members received US$3,465 (approx. $4,392) to watch foreign films in January, while members of a travel committee are paid US$2,310 (approx. $2,927) a month, while archives committee members each earn US$2,200 (approx. $2,785) a month and film festival committee members are paid US$1,100 (approx. $1,406) a month. A history committee pays members US$1,000 (approx. $1.267) a month.
News conference moderators earn US$1,200 (approx. $1,520) a month, while articles for the HFPA’s website also earn members extra cash (a total of US$585,000 (approx. $740,785) in the fiscal year ending June 2020).
The HFPA also compensates its board handsomely, the Times writes, noting that five officers were paid between US$63,433 (approx. $80,325) and $135,957 (approx. $172, 162) in the tax year ending June 30, 2019. Board directors were paid between US$22,915 (approx. $29,017) and $78,079 (approx. $98,884) in the same time frame.
Tax experts quoted by the newspaper called the payments unusual, especially for a tax-exempt organization. Insiders told the Times that the amount of money paid to members began to dramatically increase about a decade ago when the journalism marketplace began its rapid economic slide.
Sources tell Variety that under the late HFPA president Lorenzo Soria, who died last August, the organization had outside audits conducted on its compensation practices. The org is believed to have made small adjustments to ensure its compliance with tax laws governing nonprofits. Soria was in his third term as HFPA president, which started in 2019, at the time of his death.
The HFPA has also greatly benefited from the rating success of the Globes, which has become one of the most-watched non-sports telecasts of the year, and now earns the org US$27.4 million (approx. $34, 701 million) from NBC, a haul that is up more than US$3.6 million (approx. $4.5 million) from 2017. Internal documents show that the HFPA had US$50 million (approx. $63.3 million) in cash on hand at the end of October, according to the Times. The licensing fees have also allowed the HFPA to increase the number of its charitable contributions, with more than US$5 million (approx. $6.3 million) in grants to an array of organizations in 2020.
The HFPA has long faced criticism that its nominations are influenced by largess laid out by studio awards campaigns. The Times noted that HFPA members were treated to a luxury trip to Paris by producer Paramount TV for a set visit for the Netflix comedy Emily in Paris, which surprised awards prognosticators in landing a Globe nom for best comedy series.
Variety has reached out to the HFPA for comment. A source close to the org suggested that members are only compensated when they provide services to the HFPA that are outside their capacity as members, acting instead as employees. The source said HFPA’s compensation decisions “are based on an evaluation of compensation practices by similar nonprofit organizations and market rates for such services,” and vetted by a professional non-profit compensation consultant and outside counsel.
The source also noted that the HFPA has no highly paid non-member executives and reports compensation paid to key employees and officers via the IRS, and characterizes that compensation as “relatively modest.”
“We are mindful of the unprecedented economic challenges facing our employees due to the effects of the pandemic,” an HFPA representative told the L.A. Times. “The HFPA is committed to maintaining the continuity of our skilled and experienced workforce to ensure our future success, and will continue to compensate them for the range of services they provide to the organization.”
A related L.A. Times story put the spotlight on the lack of Black membership in the HFPA. The Times reported that the 87-member group has limited its membership for many years in part due to concerns over competition. The HFPA has several members of colour, but no Black members. An HFPA spokesperson said the organization is “committed to addressing” the lack of Black representation.
Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.