Discovery Institute: Their 2013 Tax Return

We begin by cautioning you that your Curmudgeon has neither the skill nor enthusiasm needed for reading tax returns. All we can do here is give you what we see as the highlights, but don’t rely on our view of things — you should reach your own opinions. With that disclaimer out of the way, we bring you the thrilling news that the latest tax return of the Discovery Institute is now available — you can see it here: Discovery Institute Form 990 for 2013 (it’s a 43-page pdf file).

So you can make comparisons, we discussed their 2005 return in Discovery Institute: Who and What Are They?, and then Discovery Institute: Their 2006 Tax Return, and then Discovery Institute: Their 2007 Tax Return, and then Discovery Institute Tax Returns: 2008 & 2009, and then their 2010 tax return, and then their 2011 Tax Return, and most recently their 2012 Tax Return.

The first item of interest is the Discoveroids’ gross revenue — from “contributions and grants,” and ignoring revenue from some relatively trivial items like investment income. Here’s what the latest return shows, with historical information from their older returns described in our earlier posts:

2013: $3,876,700
2012: $4,964,321
2011: $5,433,226
2010: $4,323,149
2009: $4,509,577
2008: $5,179,188
2007: $4,256,588
2006: $4,165,847
2005: $2,784,188

Whoa! They’re down over a million bucks from the previous year’s revenue. The haul for 2013 was only 78% of what it was in 2012, and as you recall, in 2012 they were down 8.6% from 2011’s revenue — and as far as we know, 2011 was their biggest year ever. Revenue has been going down ever since. Can we see a trend here? Probably not, but we note that before 2013, the last time they took in less than $4 million was back in 2005 (a bad year, possibly due to the Kitzmiller decision).

We can’t leave the subject of gross revenue without asking a familiar question that always seems relevant: After burning through all that money –$39 million in only the 9 years we’ve displayed above — what do the Discoveroids have to show for it? As we’ve done in the past, we leave that as an exercise for you, dear reader.

The next item that interests us is the breakdown of their spending according to activity. That’s disclosed on page 2 of the return. Line 4b says that they spent $296,961 on their transportation work — the sort of thing a respectable think tank would do. But it’s significantly less than the $461,873 spent on transportation for 2012. And the year before that they spent $832K on transportation. The decline appears to reveal a decreasing emphasis on work that isn’t creationism oriented; but one can’t be certain whether it’s a genuine trend or a short-term phenomenon.

Although they’re spending less on transportation issues, line 4a says they spent $3,717,002 on the Center for Science and Culture. That’s their creationism “think tank,” and it received about half a million more than the $3,218,867 spent on it in 2012, and the 2012 amount exceeded the $2.995 million similarly spent in 2011. In other words, their expenditures on creationism show an annual increase at the same time there’s a corresponding decrease in what they spend on transportation issues. The Discoveroids are increasingly becoming a “think tank” that is almost entirely devoted to creationism.

They also spent over half a million on other activities, and half of that, or $248,256, was spent on “PRODUCTION OF PUBLIC SERVICE REPORTS, LEGISLATIVE TESTIMONY, ARTICLES, PUBLIC CONFERENCES AND DEBATES, PLUS MEDIA COVERAGE AND THE INSTITUTE’S OWN PUBLICATIONS IN THE FIELDS OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, RELIGION, AND OTHER TOPICS. [our bold font]” That’s a fuzzy description, but we think it’s entirely related to lobbying for creationist legislation and encouraging creationist activities in other countries. That’s not idle speculation. The description for that item back in 2012 was virtually the same, except it said “in the field of science and culture” — their euphemism for creationist activity.

If we add that $248,256 to the $3,717,002 spent on the Center for Science and Culture, the total in 2013 for what we regard as creationism activity is $3,965,258 — that’s $100K more than their entire revenue for the year. Compared to only $296,961 spent last year on their transportation work, we see that creationism expenditures are thirteen times greater than expenditures for transportation. There’s no question that promoting creationism is the Discoveroids’ principal function, and in recent years it’s been growing as a percentage of their activities. Is anyone surprised?

Page 7 lists their officers, directors, etc., and it gives their compensation. Looking at the Directors first, they list Stephen Meyer. This year he was paid $200,000, plus $16,378 “other compensation.” Last year (2012) he was paid $180K, plus $15,783 for “other.” The year before that he was paid $150K plus $16K “other.” His compensation goes up every year.

Bruce Chapman, Chairman, was paid $133,646, plus $5,950 “other” compensation. The year before (2012) it was $135K plus $4,855 “other,” and in 2011 it was $154K plus $8K “other.” Chappy’s pay keeps getting cut. Further, in 2011 he was both President and Chairman. But starting in 2012 he was no longer the Discoveroids’ President. That honor was bestowed upon John West, who was paid $120K, the same as in the last two years.

And it’s no surprise that Howard Ahmanson continues to be listed as one of their directors, without compensation. It’s long been known that he’s a patron of the Discovery Institute. There are around a dozen other directors listed, most of whom receive no compensation. We assume they’re also patrons, but we really don’t know.

On page 8 they list payments to “independent contractors.” George Gilder was paid $165K for “research.” In 2012 he received $120K for the same thing. David Berlinsky got $115K for his “research.” The year before it was $100K. And William Dembski was also paid $115K for “research.” The world is eagerly awaiting the fruits of their labors..

Now we’re going to skip a lot of pages until we get to the schedules attached to the tax return. Schedule I on page 31 lists the grants they’ve made. They gave $285,680 to “Biologic.” It was $291,300 the year before. We assume that’s their own creation science lab — Biologic Institute.

On the next page they disclose that they paid out $295,531 for 7 CSC “fellowships.” That’s an average of $42K each. Those are the Discoveroid “fellows” we hear so much about. The year before they paid $239,976 for four of those fellowships. Also this year they paid $93,000 for something they call a “technology fellowship” (they paid #120K for one of those the year before).

There must be more information buried in the 43 pages of that form, but we’ve spend enough time with it. If you find anything else of interest, please let us know.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Discovery Institute: Their 2013 Tax Return

  1. In the table of gross revenue in your 3rd paragraph, Curmy, it appears to jump from the year 2012 to 2913.

    I hope these foolish folks aren’t still peddling their bull-puckey in 2913!

    …But if they are, and their revenue then is the stated $3.8m, that sum (adjusting for inflation) probably wouldn’t buy a candy bar.

  2. Wow, Dumbski gets $115k for doing NOTHING!

    Nice going.

  3. Megalonyx tactfully says: “it appears to jump from the year 2012 to 2913.”

    Merely a time warp. Happens to me all the time. I’ve fixed it.

  4. Eddie Janssen


  5. Hey, Discovery Institute, my offer to be your Darwinist Ombudsman still stands. I have no qualifications to write about modern science, but that just means I should fit right in. Only two reqirements above the standard stuff: membership to the gym you share a building with and time enough in the evening to complete a degree in drama.

  6. TheMolinistApprentice

    My question for the Discovery Institute staff remains a simple one: For the year 2014, what was the Discovery Institute’s most important scientific discovery?

    If you have difficulty limiting your answer to just one, feel free to list as many discoveries if you wish.

    For that matter, how about the most important scientific discovery of the Discovery Institute since its founding?


  7. Just did a quick chart in Excel (assuming the final entry is for 2013), and it’s not good news for our side: the overall trend line for the Discotheque’s spending (and therefore presumably its revenue, unless it’s being funded at a loss) for the years in question is upward. (Try it yourselves; the hardest part is splitting the entries into two columns, and that isn’t hard.)

    Of course, one way to spin that positively is to suggest the D’s are getting desperate and throwing more and more effort into the fight. More spending doesn’t mean more success, and we can hope that the drop since 2011 is a continuing trend, inn which case they’d be down to zip in another three or four years. I’m sure, though, that someone else would step up to continue God’s work in “correcting” science.

  8. Eric Lipps says: “the overall trend line for the Discotheque’s spending (and therefore presumably its revenue, unless it’s being funded at a loss) for the years in question is upward.”

    Yes, they’re spending more of their dwindling revenue on creationism, and less on other things. Presumably those who have been funding the other things aren’t contributing very much any more. So every year they’re getting closer to being all creationism, all the time. That’s a good thing, really. They’re losing whatever facade they had of being a genuine think tank.

  9. The Discoveroids are increasingly becoming a “think tank” that is almost entirely devoted to creationism.

    I think the correct term is “stink tank”. Up here Seattle way I don’t hear anything of consequence related to transportation studies, nor anything else. I do recall though, that the Gates Foundation gave money for such studies, but not much. They do try to puff out their chests and have an ex U.S. Senator, Slade Gordon, on board, but still nothing of importance ever comes out of their mouths. It appears they rewrite stories from the wires and make it look like the DI is the originator or is in some manner associated with the story.

  10. I would like to know how one goes about challenging their IRS tax-exempt status. Anyone know?

  11. When I see that they make a very comfortable living and don’t have to produce anything I have a hard time blaming them.
    I’ve looked for Hambo’s tax returns can’t find them anywhere.

  12. DavidK says: “I would like to know how one goes about challenging their IRS tax-exempt status.”

    On what grounds — being a pack of creationists? That’s no problem. Even ol’ Hambo’s AIG is tax exempt.

  13. I always refer to them as Discovery Bible Institute.

  14. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    Somebody over there needs to take pity on the Gerbillus supercilium maxima and kick him an extra 20 spot to get those caterpillars groomed.

  15. I think it is sweet that Luskin is working his gerbil hind parts off for a third of what Dumbski is raking in for doing sod all. I knew Luskin was stupid, that’s pretty evident, but I didn’t know he was that stupid. I just can’t imagine how unemployable Luskin is to work in that sweatshop.

  16. I see these guys writing a few nonsense essays a year for $115,000 a year, and I wonder if I’ve wasted my life.

  17. I’m sure the Gerbil tells himself that simply working with Kling and the like is payment enough. Because that’s what guys like the Gerb always say.

  18. Mark Germano says: “I’m sure the Gerbil tells himself that simply working with Kling and the like is payment enough.”

    Probably. That and the joy of being on the cutting edge of a new scientific paradigm. But I felt he deserved better, so a few years ago I announced that Casey Luskin Is Named a Curmudgeon Fellow.

  19. Yes, but Hambo has a religious organization, the DI is primarily religious for their creationism, but I think they portray themselves as a non-sectarian stink tank or public service organization.

  20. From what I can gather the Gerb has been doing the same job for the past 10 years but he’s given a new or additional title in lieu of pay. I guess if you’re as stupid as Luskin that works!

  21. These guys also make money from their books, magazine articles, speaking engagements and debate appearances. Some of them are on editorial staffs of religious magazines (Casey is a Sr. Editor for Salvo magazine, for example) and may serve on boards of similar religious organizations. I imagine all of them net more money each year than their salary from the DI.

  22. Interesting, they claim to be secular and even to include agnostics amongst their ranks, yet when I do a google search on “discovery institute” this pops up as a description: “A Christian institute discovering and promoting ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty”

  23. @Troycommon sense tradition
    I wonder whether they are deliberately invoking the Common Sense Philosophy of Thomas Reid, one of the origins of Fundamentalism in the early 19th century.