By Adam Andrzejewski, CEO & Founder, OpenTheBooks.com
While travel around the country was curtailed during the Covid-19 pandemic, an organization in Baltimore tasked with bringing tourists to the city was collecting tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding.
The nonprofit Visit Baltimore markets Baltimore to visitors, including conventions, and is organized as a 501(c)(6) “business league.” In 2020, its CEO made $422,000 – more than twice the pay of Maryland’s governor ($180,000) and exceeded the salary of the president ($400,000).
Baltimore City funded the organization to the tune of $25 million in the last couple years, $14.1 million (2020) and $11 million (2021). The funding, in large part, came through a city hotel tax. State government added $3.9 million to the organization and the federal government added another $10,000 in aid for Covid-distressed businesses.
FOX45 found that Visit Baltimore spent $5 million on a tourism ad campaign in federal pass-through city Covid-aid during calendar year 2020 – during a period when no one was traveling.
From the feds, Visit Baltimore took a $10,000 forgivable COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance in April 2020 from the Small Business Administration — labeled as a grant — to stave off economic injury during the pandemic.
However, the organization didn’t seem to be facing financial hardship. Here’s how its state aid broke down:
- In 2021, the Department of Commerce gave Visit Baltimore $822,627.
- In 2020, Visit Baltimore collected $739,155.
With all of this taxpayer money, the organization seems to be stock piling assets. In the latest IRS 990 Informational Return providing the details through June 30, 2020, net assets grew by $862,474 to $4.1 million.
So why all the local, state, and federal aid? It’s the waste of the week in Baltimore.
We found Visit Baltimore also has an affiliated public charity, Visit Baltimore Foundation, and develops the city’s workforce and strengthens the tourism community through training, apprenticeships and scholarships. Maryland state government gave Visit Baltimore Foundation $125,000 in 2021.
However, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found that the foundation does not comply with Maryland’s charitable disclosure laws.
According to the Maryland Secretary of State website, “This organization is not in compliance with the Maryland Solicitation Act because the organization has not submitted the information to maintain its registration.”
Overall, it’s unclear what the organization did with the last two years of taxpayer funding since tourism activities were all but completely shuttered during the pandemic.
We asked Visit Baltimore to respond to the following questions:
Why did Visit Baltimore need funding for tourism when there was no tourism during the pandemic?
And how does a nonprofit organization justify paying its CEO $422,118?
Read the organization’s response to our request for comment here.