Minnesota Public Radio May Skip Tax Money Rather Than Make Salary Data Public

February 19th, 2006 7:15 AM

One of the annoying things conservatives discover when they spend any time studying public broadcasting is how much cash pub-casting bosses take home even as they beg struggling audience members for donations (and ever more taxpayer funds). The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Minnesota Public Radio may forego $190,000 in state tax money rather than disclose how many MPR execs make more than $100,000. One sharp Republican legislator (my hero!) is saying you want the money, you disclose your salary info:

Thomas Kigin, MPR executive vice president, said MPR would ask legislators to change the law. Asked if it might forgo the state money should the disclosure provision remain, Kigin said, "It's possible."

Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, who pushed last year for the law requiring the salary disclosure, said inaction on the grant by MPR may reflect its opposition to complying with the disclosure provision.

"They don't want the taxpayers to know this or they would have unveiled this information like the accountability language requires," Seifert said.

MPR says it discloses plenty of data about compensation and that giving a complete listing of all employees making six figures would invade privacy.

But Seifert said the new disclosure requirement would only force MPR to reveal how many positions pay more than $100,000 a year and wouldn't disclose names.

To give you some context, Minnesota Public Radio is a public-radio fat cat that makes millions of dollars through its national "Wireless" catalogue merchandising business. It has enough money that in the early 1990s, it bought one of Minneapolis's biggest hit-radio stations, WLOL-FM at 99.5, and plopped an NPR station right in the middle of the FM dial. Marty Seifert explained why he put this salary-disclosure requirement into law last year:  

Seifert said he focused on MPR because he was bothered by the more than $500,000 in annual compensation for its president and CEO, William Kling, for work at MPR and another media organization. Seifert said that MPR content was not a factor.

He said the other broadcast organizations had assured him that few or none of their employees earned more than $100,000.

MPR, like other nonprofits, must disclose many compensation details in federal tax return forms that are available to the public. The forms list names and salaries of the five highest-paid employees and of officers or trustees. On the 2004 tax return, MPR listed the names and salaries of 13 officers or trustees, 12 of whom earned more than $100,000. Kling received $326,700 in salary, pension and benefits, and incentive compensation at MPR. He earns roughly an additional $218,000 from American Public Media Group, the parent company of MPR.

The top five highest-paid employees earned from $117,845 to $174,040, plus benefits and deferred compensation.

"It's tough for me to justify spending hard-earned tax dollars on an organization that claims to be nonprofit and gives its top executives that type of money," Seifert said.

Now let's stipulate that in the nonprofit world, major executives can make hefty salaries, in liberal groups and conservative groups. But at least most ideological groups aren't also operating largely on federal and state taxpayer dollars. Seifert expressed the principle that executives like Kling shouldn't be making more money than the Governor of Minnesota.