Forbes: Kennedy Center Received $270 Million From Congress And Paid Their President $5 Million Since 2016 6_JFK_center

February 1, 2021 04:35 AM

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The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. disclosed that it has received $269.4 million in federal funding since 2016 – including $42 million in grants and last year’s $25 million coronavirus earmark that was mostly usedfor payroll. 

Even during the 2020 pandemic, the Center grew their net assets by $3.3 million to $505 million. Since 2016, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found a $114.4 million increase in net assets – from $390.6 million. 

During this five-year period, their president, Deborah Rutter, received pay and benefits amounting to $5.1 million. Peak earning years were 2018 and 2019 when she was paid $1.3 million annually. During the 2020 pandemic year, she cut her pay to $507,375, which is still more than the U.S. President makes at $400,000.

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We reached out for comment and Chairman David M. Rubenstein provided this response:

"Deborah Rutter is at the top of her field and her salary is competitive with peers at the country's largest performing arts organizations. In her more than six years at the Kennedy Center's helm, Deborah's vision, leadership, and artistic and financial results have exceeded the board's expectations. Even before the pandemic forced a complete shutdown, she voluntarily offered to take no salary until further notice. Her outstanding leadership and dedication to the Center, both before and during the pandemic crisis, have proven that she is the right person at the right time."

The Kennedy Center is a charitable organization recognized under IRS section 501(c)3. 

In 1958, Congress allocated $15.5 million ($144 million adjusted for inflation) for construction of the Kennedy Center building. Originally Congress indicated that “the Center was to be an independent facility, self-sustaining, and privately funded.” 

Despite these intentions, the Kennedy Center receives an annual congressional appropriation to support dual roles as the living memorial to President John F. Kennedy and a national cultural center. During the past five-years, the Center has been 80 percent privately funded. The 2020 financial numbers used in this piece were confirmed by a spokesperson.

Critics have questioned the Center’s unique relationship with Congress that is designated by law. 

Powerful Members of Congress serve as ex-officio members on the board of trustees: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other members include five U.S. Senators and four representatives. 

Every first lady since Rosalynn Carter has served as an honorary chair of the board of trustees as well, including Melania Trump.

In fiscal year 2020, Congress allocated $78.2 million. 

In addition to its $25 million COVID relief earmark and $43.5 million appropriation, the Center also received $8 million in grants from the Department of Education, $650,000 from National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs, and $85,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

During the pandemic, the Kennedy Center coronavirus aid became a flashpoint in public debate

In March 2020, the coronavirus aid bill – The CARES Act – included a $25 million earmark. House Democrats wanted $35 million for the Center. $22 million was used for payroll. 

Immediately after the CARES Act passed, however, the Center announced employee furloughs

President Deborah Rutter emailed employees at the end of March. “Our extensive financial modeling indicates that if no changes are made to our spending patterns, even if we are able to open in mid-May, with the recent $25 million federal stimulus funding, the Kennedy Center would run out of cash as early as July.”

Initially, all but 150 employees were furloughed. Ahead of the pandemic, the Kennedy Center employed 411 full-time employees and thousands of part-time or contract workers such as performers, stagehands, and parking attendants.

As the year unfolded, the Center hired back 114 employees and finished 2020 with 264 full-time positions on payroll. 147 positions were entirely eliminated (36 percent).

President Rutter took a pay cut to $507,375 and, according to the spokesperson, other presidential-suite executives took 25-percent cuts. In 2019, Rutter earned $1.3 million, chief financial officer Lynne Platt made $404,978, and general counsel Maria Kersten earned $330,176. 

In comparison, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Lonnie G. Bunch III makes approximately $900,000 and cut his pay by 15 percent in 2020. The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City (the Met) – an organization with a $3.6 billion endowment — paid CEO Daniel H. Weiss $1.25 million in 2019.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made $223,500; four-star generals in the U.S. military earned $268,000; and the U.S. President made $400,000. 

FURTHER READING 

President Donald Trump defended the $25 million coronavirus earmark in March 2020 saying, “It was $35 million but we took off $10 {million}... The Kennedy Center has suffered greatly because no one can go there. It is essentially closed. And they do need some funding.”

In December 2020, Trump criticized the allocation noting that the Kennedy Center “wasn’t even open.” In the FY2021 congressional appropriation, an additional $40.4 million in funding was allocated. Funding included $26.4 million for “operation, maintenance, and security” and $14 million for its “capital repair and restoration.” 

Kennedy Center Annual Report 2020, including financials with year-ending September 30, 2020, here.

Kennedy Center IRS 990, year ending September 30, every year since 2001 posted by ProPublica, here.

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