The organization behind the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, paid nearly $2 million to its own members for working on internal committees, an increase more than double what it was three years ago that raises questions about whether doing so breaches tax-exempt regulations, according to a new investigation by the Los Angeles Times.
According to public tax filings, the HFPA has paid $1.929 million to its 87 members in the fiscal year ending in June 2020 with a budgeted increase to $2.15 million in the current fiscal year ending in June 2021.
“It’s unusual that all of these people are getting paid,” Daniel Kurtz, a partner at New York-based law firm Pryor Cashman, told The Los Angeles Times in a new report. Kurtz, an expert on nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations, said that a tax-exempt trade organization “exists to advance the profession or industry…not the interests of the individual members. Lots of organizations run afoul of the IRS on precisely that issue.”
By comparison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars, has a paid staff but does not send payments to members.
TheWrap reached out to the HFPA for comment, but it has yet to respond.
The HFPA has been criticized for corruption stretching back many decades, with the group numbering around 90 members holding an inordinate amount of power during awards season because of the Golden Globes.
An antitrust lawsuit filed in August 2020 by Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa accused the organization of allowing a “culture of corruption” and claimed “the tax-exempt organization operated as a kind of cartel, barring qualified applicants — including herself — and monopolizing all-important press access while improperly subsidizing its members’ income.” Flaa’s lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge in November.
Illustrating Flaa’s claims, the Times spoke with one HFPA member who remained anonymous but described a lavish trip provided by Paramount Network for 30 members to Paris to visit the set of the TV series “Emily in Paris,” which included a two-night stay at a five-star hotel and lunch at a private museum where the show was filming. Coincidently, last month, “Emily in Paris” received a nomination for lead star Lily Collins, as well as a nomination for Best Television Comedy/Musical despite mixed reviews. Even Deborah Copaken, a writer on “Emily in Paris,” said in a Guardian column that the show did not deserve to be nominated, while “I May Destroy You,” a drama about the aftermath of sexual assault, was completely shut out of the Globes.
But this is just the latest black mark on the 78-year-old organization of journalists and photographers who report on the entertainment industry for outlets outside the U.S. It has been at the center of allegations of sexual shenanigans and harassment, lawsuits claiming fraud and charges of racism, as well as criticism as to how winners are chosen for their annual Golden Globe Awards. Comedian Ricky Gervais said while hosting the televised show in 2016 that the award was “a bit of metal that some nice old confused journalists wanted to give you in person so they could meet you and have a selfie with you.”
While ratings for other awards shows like the Oscars and Emmys have continued to decline, ratings for the Golden Globes have remained consistent at around 18-20 million viewers per year. That consistency has led to a windfall for the HFPA, with NBC paying $27.4 million last fiscal year for the rights to air the awards ceremony. HFPA has attempted to bolster its image by donating millions from those rights sales to charities and scholarship funds that promote cinema and press freedom, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and local film schools like the USC School of Cinematic Arts. But anonymous interviews with both members and awards publicists show that such efforts have done little to change that reputation.
“It’s a beautiful idea to take the money from NBC and give it to good causes like tuition and to restore films,” one member told The Times. “But there is a spirit now to milk the organization and take the money. It’s outrageous.”
In a statement to the Times, the HFPA said that “none of these allegations has ever been proven in court or in any investigation, [and they] simply repeat old tropes about the HFPA and reflect unconscious bias against the HFPA’s diverse membership.” In response to the increasing payments to members, the HFPA said that its “compensation decisions are based on an evaluation of compensation practices by similar nonprofit organizations and market rates for such services” and are “vetted by a professional nonprofit compensation consultant and outside counsel, where appropriate.”