asa tax returns

OK, so, within minutes of my previous post, a reader* sent me ASA’s 2008 Form 990 tax return. Nonprofit tax returns are apparently a matter of public record and all you have to do is register at Guidestar.com and start searching.

Want to compare the 2008 sociology return to the returns for economics, political science, or anthropology? Well, follow those links. Skimming them, I thought the most interesting thing is the very modest relationship between the size of the different disciplines faculty-wise (economics > political science > sociology > anthropology) and how much their professional organizations take in and spend.

In terms of the finances of the journals, though, my correspondent pointed out that it looks like in 2008 the journals had $3 million in revenue (page 2) and $1.6 million in expenses (page 9), so, if that’s correct, the ASA journals appear to have come out about $1.4 million ahead.

UPDATE: Looks from page 9 like ASA made $85K from “mailing list rentals.” ASA has about 14K members, so that works out to better than $6/member name. I had no idea our names were so valuable.

* I wasn’t sure if you wanted credit or to remain anonymous.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

22 thoughts on “asa tax returns”

  1. *spews coffee across his monitor* Holy- ! Did you say that the ASA profits to the tune of $1.4 MILLION from the journals? The same journals that, every time I publish therein, demand that I subsidize the publication of my own article? Seriously?

    I just… wow.

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      1. You are thinking of Gerald Marwell’s piece, “Economists Free Ride, Does Anybody Else?”. The only group of subjects whose behavior fit the economic model were economic graduate students. On the average, other people split their contributions about 50-50 between the altruistic response and the selfish response.

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    1. kieran and jeremy,

      this strikes me as a good illustration of the proverb that “spending is taxation.” that is, it’s all fine and good to complain about excess revenue (e.g., rents derived from institutional journal subscriptions, the job bank, or selling our addresses to textbook publishers), but this is irresponsible Norquist-ism unless you are also identify spending that you are willing to cut.

      i for one would be quite glad to see the ASA pared down to a narrowly-focused professional service organization based in a cheap city like Nashville along the lines of AEA and completely abandon the expensive pretense that it’s some kind of lobbying organization that will eventually create a Council of Social Advisors or some similar pipe dream of political power if we just keep spending on expensive DC real estate, congressional fellowships, and related expenditures.

      there’s a reason that the AEA can charge lower dues with more bundled journal subscriptions — and it ain’t underpants gnomes, arcane sorcery, or a conspiracy of bankers underwriting the AEA to ensure neoliberal hegemony.

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      1. Sure, I agree there’s no evidence that the ASA being in DC provides any sort of tangible benefit to sociologists that is commensurate with the cost. That said, it’s hard for me to imagine the political upheaval that would result in a 30 person staff moving from DC to Nashville (or even from central DC to outer DC).

        It’s easier for me to imagine more pushback from members about dues and fees in the absence of transparency (or a better sense of frugality). The big thing about any kind of spending cuts is that ASA spending still pretty mysterious, even being able to post the information from tax returns or from an audit three years ago.

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      2. jeremy,
        i’m not sure to what extent this stuff is mysterious. a quarter of every issue of Footnotes is devoted to making it sound like if the ASA is one of four dozen parties filing amicus curiae or if a sociologist takes a grip and grin photo with a freshman house member this means we’re on the road to class power.

        furthermore, i’m cynical enough to think the median sociologist likes this kind of crap as salve to our perennial status anxiety as reincarnated economists who had been wicked in a past life and are thus doomed to spend this life grading the papers of dumping major undergrads. that is, if there were no information problem and you were to lay it on the table straight and say, look, we can have a lean and mean ASA with low dues that restricts itself to finding a block of 2000 hotel rooms every August and negotiating journal royalties with publishers or we can have a large ASA with high dues that acts as a keystone cops lobbyist, i honestly think most sociologists would think an extra $200 a year per member is a small price to pay for being able to tell ourselves that at least we’re trying to be policy relevant.

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    1. Yes. I should have said “pays its editors a salary for their time.” (For those who don’t want to wade through the form 990s, AEA journal editors are paid between 75K and 93K total compensation for 20-25 hours per week. What this likely means is that the AEA buys out a fifth to a quarter of the editors’ time from their universities.)

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      1. Right. I know what you mean. BTW, word from a correspondent is that the ASA honorarium is $1500 or so for the lesser journals and $3500 or so for ASR. Not sure if the current editorial team for ASR has to split that four ways.

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  2. Wow, what a cynical bunch we are! I’d just point out that many of the most important funders of sociology are in the DC ambit: NIH, NSF, DOJ, various foundations. Much of ASA’s lobbying isn’t about policy writ large (and it probably shouldn’t be), but more narrowly about the interests of sociologists in terms of federal funding for research and education.

    More broadly: do you really feel like ASA is such a bad deal? With no data whatsoever to support my contention, it seems like it’s a reasonable price for coordination, networking, PR, and representation.

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    1. I’d rather we bought out 1/4 of the ASR editor’s time (and go back to having one or at most two editors) than pay high “occupancy” fees and unknown hours of staff time to do whatever it is they do in WA. The benefit of the former would likely be better quality reviews, better quality output, and cutting-edge research that isn’t 3 years old by the time it appears in our flagship journals. There may be benefits of the latter, but relatively speaking the bang-for-the-buck seems rather modest.

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    2. I don’t really think of myself as a customer of ASA. I think of myself as a member and a volunteer. It’s in those capacities that I’m bothered by the lack of transparencies in finances; I don’t care about the internal finances of the deals for products for which I am a customer, unless they are killing baby seals or something.

      I don’t pay for my dues or journals in ASA out of my own pocket, so the amount of the dues isn’t a problem for me, although I still grimace when I authorize the funds from my discretionary accounts. If I ever do have to pay directly from my own pocket, I won’t pay what I do now, perhaps either by going down to Associate Member or refusing to abide by their sliding scale system.

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  3. Not sure if this comment goes here or under “who are our customers,” vis-a-vis the value of sociology. But according to Sally T. Hillsman, ASA Executive Officer, in 12/10’s NYT, “social science research underpins our nation’s economic and national security — from an astute small-business person using demographic research to start, expand or promote his company to the military using networking models to catch roadside bombers.”

    So, pay your dues or that letter never sees the light of day (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/opinion/l11brooks.html).

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