Discovery Institute: Their 2017 Tax Return

This is something we do every year — look at the Discoveroids’ latest tax return. We always warn you that your Curmudgeon has neither the skill nor enthusiasm needed for reading these things, so all we can do is give you what we see as the highlights. Don’t rely on our interpretation — you should reach your own opinions.

With that disclaimer, 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 2017 (it’s a 58-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 then their 2012 Tax Return, and then their 2013 Tax Return, and then their 2014 Tax Return, and then their 2015 Tax Return, and most recently their 2016 Tax Return.

The first item of interest on the 2017 tax return, on the first page, is the Discoveroids’ gross revenue — from “contributions and grants,” ignoring revenue from other items like investment income. Here’s what the latest return shows, with historical information from their older returns described in our earlier posts:

2017: $5,343,212
2016: $5,461,966
2015: $5,773,002
2014: $4,698,817
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

Interestingly, their revenue from “contributions and grants” was $118,754 less than the year before — which was also less than it was in 2015, their best year ever. Are we seeing a trend, or just a trivial year-to-year variation? Only time will tell.

We ask this question every year. After burning through all that money – more than $60 million in the years we’ve displayed above — what do the Discoveroids have to show for it? As 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 in question 4 on page 2 of the return. For their three biggest programs, here’s what they spent: The first item was $4,680,854 — presumably that’s their creationist activities It’s almost 88% of their revenue from “contributions and grants.” The next two items are $222,356 and $185,707. For each item it says “see additional data,” You have to hunt around to find out what those items are, and that’s too much work. The principle lesson here is that the Discoveroids have one major activity — and we all know what that is.

Page 7 lists their officers, directors, etc., and it discloses their compensation. As with their last return, Bruce Chapman, Chairman, is the only Director who was paid. It was $90,000, which is a bit more than he’s made in the past few years.

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 a dozen other directors listed. They receive no compensation, so we assume they’re also patrons — but we really don’t know.

They also list Steven Buri as President. We know nothing about him. He was paid $164,200 (it was $150K last year). John West (whom we call “Westie”) is once again shown as Vice President. He got $136,130, compared to $126K last year. Page 8 lists some highly-paid employees. Among them is Stephen Meyer, who has no title. Well, he’s a “senior fellow,” but that’s not a corporate title. He was paid $250K, the same as the year before.

There’s probably an ark-load of other information buried in that form, but we can’t look at it any more. If you find something of interest, please let us know.

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14 responses to “Discovery Institute: Their 2017 Tax Return

  1. Off topic, but stil about money. I can’t resist this quote in the news today:
    “I don’t want to make money. I don’t care about making money.”

  2. Compare this with the increasing number of visitors to the Ken Ham circus. It highlights for me the increased polarisation of Christianity. The number of creationists might be declining, but hardcore YE creationism is not. However, to sustain those numbers YE creationism has to put in a lot of hard work to maintain credibility.

    On the other hand, ID is a kind of default position for many Christians: YE is too extreme, but ID provides them with the warm comfort that divine activity can be shown scientifically. A constant stream of publications is enough as a reminder. No need for full-sized arks and creation museums.

  3. Michael Fugate

    Hans – I don’t know. The DI only appears to be less extreme. As docbill has pointed out ID is merely repackaged creation “science” and creation “science” is repackaged biblical creationism – all in an attempt to teach Genesis, as interpreted by a small group of Christians, in public schools as an alternative to evolution. Meyer’s “Darwin’s Doubt” and Behe’s “Darwin Devolves” are modern versions of species fixity – one based on the fossil record and the other on mutation and natural selection – long time creationist tropes. Meyer’s new book is an attack on methodological naturalism arguing that supernaturalism is philosophically superior. Ann Gauger and Wesley Smith argue for the separate creation of humans – one big stumbling block to evolution acceptance by many. I realize that many are fooled by the rhetoric of ID that it is more science-based, but it is a distinction without a difference.

  4. Michael – If you want to be one of Ham’s disciples you have to accept a 6,000 year old universe. He makes it very clear that you are already compromising the Bible if you allow for 10,000 years. Keeping up this illusion, during a time of constant onslaught coming from daily scientific discoveries, requires hard work. Forget about evolution – geology and astronomy alone make YE creationism look ridiculous.

    Compare this with ID. It covers the whole spectrum from Michael Behe who accepts common descent, right down to Paul Nelson who is a YEer. All that’s required from an ID follower is the rejection of evolution based on purely naturalistic causation. I remember Stephen Meyer being asked by a YEer how it is possible that the sun was created after the plants. Instead of just saying “You don’t need to take that part of the Bible literally” he spent three minutes bending over backwards coming up with some crazy explanation. Can’t afford to loose a follower to the competition.

    Methodological naturalism is a no-no in ID, more so than in YEC. YEers like to point to scientific laws which seemingly support their view. The laws just need to have changed whenever the need arises (radioactive decay, speed of light). If scientific laws won’t do the explaining, then miracles come in. ID is more hesitant in using largescale miracles for explanation. Tiny, invisible but supernatural intervention is all that’s needed.

    Yes, ID has shifted over the last two decades from “the Designer” to a more open reference to the Christian God, but there are still plenty of sceptics and non-Christians in their ranks. Berlinski is just one of many.

  5. Interesting that 90% of their funding goes to “program” which translates into “salaries for the Tooters.”

    Also very interesting is that Jonathan Wells pulls in over $100 k, as do Witt and Berlinski. That’s clearly money for nothing, as the song goes.

    “Biologic,” their green screen lab rakes in $300 k, a nice little paycheck for Annie Green Screen and Fringe Axe.

    The entire “charity” is a huge scam. They have no program, they’re just pulling in tax-free donations and spending it on themselves. And the greatest irony is that they want us to be like them. Just say no.

  6. Michael Fugate

    Hans, the only thing that matters is that they are specially created by God himself in God’s image – whatever that means. It is the angst of the white, cis, straight, male that they might not be actually “special” just by being white, cis, straight, and male that has their knickers in a twist. How dare we not be special by birth – merit WTF is merit?

  7. @hans435
    Forget about plants before the Sun.
    How were there 3 days before there was a Sun? Then Sun was placed in the firmament to make days, to mark the pasage of time periods. That is explicitly stated in Genesis 1.
    There are other difficulties about consistency with a round Earth. such as when did things occur on the other side of the Earth. Did the plants grow at night in the antipodes of day 3? But let’s not get complicated: How were there days 1, 2 and 3 when there weren’t Sun, Moon and stars in the firmament?

  8. Seattle Weekly has this bit on Buri:

    It has not escaped the notice of those who question the nonpartisan bona fides of the institute that the executive director, Steven Buri, is a member of the fundamentalist Christian Antioch Bible Church of Kirkland, which describes its congregation as “not a collection of people to whom paid clergy minister” but “a called out collection of ministers who are doing God’s work in the world.” Further, “We believe that God gives His Church a great variety of ways to influence culture, business, government, education, and so on, and that He expects His Church to be salt and light throughout the community.”

    It looks like the DI’s ‘secular’ mask is continuing to slip.

  9. Karl Goldsmith

    “After burning through all that money – more than $60 million in the years we’ve displayed above — what do the Discoveroids have to show for it?”

    A podcast.

  10. @Hans and MichaelF: you’re not really contradicting each other; such are the wonders of Oogity Boogiy Land. For mentally healthy people it’s a distinction without a difference indeed. However for creacrappers themselves it matters a lot. Quite a few IDiots are offended when called creationists (which in my book is a good reason to do so). I’m not going to speculate to what extent their hurt is genuine.

  11. Stephen Kennedy

    There is some interesting information in the financial statements and it does not bode well for the DI. In 2916 their revenues exceeded expenses by over $350,000 (net profit) while in 2017 expenses exceeded revenues by $302,000 (net loss). Their net assets showed a $301,000 decline in 2017 compared to the prior year, indicating they had to dig fairly deep into their cash reserves to pay Mayer his $250,000 and other salary increases for the staff.

    Although he probably deserves it, it looks like Ahmansan is really being scammed by these guys.

  12. Charley Horse X

    How are profits from book sales distributed? Do the authors pay all expenses and reap all profits or does the DI share in the profits and pay all expenses? Assuming there are profits. The salary paid Behe compared to that paid the president suggests he is being paid to write his books.

  13. Karl Goldsmith

    Salary up by $180,000 despite income drop.