Even though President Donald Trump won’t be joining them, Washington’s political and media celebrities are making their final preparations for the year’s biggest bash, the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. That means it’s time for Washingtonian’s annual audit of the organization that throws the event.
The White House Correspondents’ Association is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that, according to its website, “represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the administration on coverage-related issues.” It also holds public panels and events, hands out journalism awards, and funds journalism scholarships. The fancy dinner is, in fact, a fundraising event for the WHCA. And as the dinner has exploded into a cultural phenomenon, the WHCA’s financial base has expanded significantly. Its net assets increased 81 percent, to $602,650, from 2012 to 2015–the most recent year that its tax forms are available on Guidestar.
According to tax filings, contributions and grants to the WHCA dipped in 2015, and as a result, total revenue fell 9 percent, to $366,481, from the prior year. Nevertheless, the WHCA was still able to finish the year with about $55,000 more in assets than it had at the beginning of the year.
The organization spent $86,550 on scholarships in 2015–the exact same amount it spent in 2014. Put another way, the WHCA spent 23.6 percent of its revenue on scholarships in 2015. While that’s up from the 21.5 percent in 2014, it’s down dramatically from 2009, when the organization spent nearly 60 percent of its total revenue on scholarships.
Jeff Mason, a Reuters reporter who currently serves as WHCA president, says looking at scholarship spending alone provides an incomplete picture of the organization’s work. “Our budget finances a lot, including our staff support for all of the work our board members do year-round for members of the WHCA, including Washingtonian,” Mason said in an email. “Measuring the amount of scholarships as a share of our budget alone does not reflect our entire mission or the work we do for members such as your magazine.”
Some Washingtonian staffers are members of the WHCA, and Washingtonian has purchased a table for this year’s dinner.
He noted that the WHCA’s total expenses made up about 85 percent of its revenue in 2015, and he said that the organization is adding three new scholarships this year. “It is true that our assets have grown over the last decade,” Mason said. “The association worked in recent years to put itself on sounder financial footing to ensure its work –including scholarships – could continue through any sudden or unexpected drop in annual revenues. So we created an endowment for future scholarships and continue to add to it.”