Golden Globes Org Paid Millions to Members in Potential Tax Conflict

Members and awards publicists frustrated with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s alleged “culture of corruption”

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The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is once again facing accusations of corruption and possible violations of the tax-exempt organization. According to recent public tax filings, it has paid $1.929 million to its 87 members in the fiscal year ending in June 2020 and a budgeted increase to $2.15 million in the current fiscal year ending in June 2021.

At the center of the new report is an antitrust lawsuit filed by Norwegian journalist and HFPA member Kjersti Flaa, who 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.”

Though the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge just weeks before the Golden Globes is set to be held on February 28, the Times has found that the HFPA has paid millions to members that are on various committees; and those payouts have not diminished during the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial records for the fiscal year ending in June 2020 found that HFPA members collected nearly $2 million in payments, with those payments increasing to $2.15 million in the current fiscal year. By comparison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars, has a paid staff but does not send any payments to members.

In addition, 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 a press conference and lunch at a private museum where the show was filming. 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, continuing a tradition of HFPA offering nominations to films and TV shows that are not critically acclaimed. 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.

“There was a real backlash and rightly so — that show doesn’t belong on any best of 2020 list,” one member said. “It’s an example of why many of us say we need change. If we continue to do this, we invite criticism and derision.”

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.”

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