False transparency at the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World
What is the 990 PF form?

What did I try to do?

What did I try to do?

I tried to figure out how the Foundation spent the money. 

It's not easy to figure out as the only source is the 990 forms that are only published once a year (in May). An expense or a grant awarded in January of 2020, will only be made public in May 2021 if no information is posted before that. The 990 forms are substantial (57 pages for 2018, 72 pages for 2019) and the information needs to be sorted out, extracted and you need to compare the data year by year to figure out how things are evolving.

As for now, the Foundation does not announce when a new grant is awarded, they only eventually post it in their 'data base' but without any date, nor $ amount. That's their idea of transparency :(

Once the 990 form is available, you have to print it and transfer as best as you can the info you find there into a format that you can work with as the initial PDF does not allow you to do that directly (you need to print it, at least I do). So you understand why most people don't do it, except if they are paid to do it (like Tobaccotactics by Bloomberg) or have a very strong motivation, like mine, fueled by a strong sense of personal injustice and a feeling the whole thing is mismanaged with a significant amount of waste, aggravated by the secrecy. 

Tobaccotactics work is not totally satisfying because it does not look at each individual grant and does not try to evaluate it's value. 

If, for now, the Foundation identifies each grant (although in a vague way), other expenses are not that detailed or explained. For example, budgets awarded to advertising or public relations agencies don't indicate what the money was used for. 

On the 2019 990 form, page 21 , "Other professional fees", refers to $10,880,605 with 3 lines:

Professional services: 4,124,010

Communications: 5,088,722

Consulting fees: 1,667,873

Does that tell you anything about what was done for those $10,880,605?

24 pages further, you have the "Compensation for the 5 highest paid professionals' that can give you a glimpse of where the money went:

Signal analytics:  2,130,000.  (data platform development)

Ruder Finn:   2,072,480. (public relations)

Baker and Hostetler :  1,647,929  (legal fees) but those were not include in the "Other professional fees) but counted separately on page 19, legal fees for a total of 2,087,984 so there was $440,055 spent elsewhere in extra legal fees, but where and what for?

Ogilvy public Relations:  1,214,702.  (that's much less than what they used to get but we still have no idea what is was about)

Marketkonnect; 1,137,992.   for consulting services... ??? 

and that's it. So the 4 highest professionals total 6,555,174 (as the legal fees are computed separately), that leaves $4,325,431 that we don't know anything about out, except they went to pay for "other professional services'...

What should FSFW do to be really transparent and not keep the public in the dark?

They should publish a press release as soon as a new grant is awarded.

This press release should be detailed enough, include ways to know more about the grantee (website, email) and the project, the amount awarded. This info should be included immediately in the grant database (that now does not provide a date, nor an amount, nor a link). When the grant if finalized and a report submitted, this report should be made available. I still suggest that each grantee be interviewed by a local independent journalist about what has been achieved. This would cost very little, provide work for independent journalists and provide basic information for the public that is supposed to be served by a tax exempt foundation.

As for the 'professional services', it would be great to get some details about what they were paid for. Wishful thinking?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)