Marathon Money: D.C. taxpayers helped underwrite this race.
Marathon Money: D.C. taxpayers helped underwrite this race. Credit: Photo by <a href="">Random Duck</a>/Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License

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You’ll never get rich running marathons. But you just might hit pay dirt organizing them.

Case in point: Bob Sweeney, president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, the nonprofit that organizes the National Marathon and whose broader mission is to bring big-name sporting events to the District.

Sweeney’s politically connected organization—which helped organize a fundraiser for Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and employs the wife of Ward 5’s Harry Thomas, Jr.—has benefited from at least $1 million in grants from the city. Not to mention nearly a half million bucks in fees waived by the office of one of the marathon’s celebrity runners: Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Between 2007 and 2008, Sweeney’s total pay and benefits package jumped 26 percent, according to the most recently available public tax records. That year he made a total of $415,278—up from $329,402 in 2007 and $316,691 in 2006.

And if you’re a D.C. taxpayer, you helped fund it.

In 2008, Evans secured a $500,000 grant for GWSA, city and tax records show. In 2007, tax records show GWSA got another $500,000 in public money. And, as Fox5’s Paul Wagner first reported last month, Fenty’s office has waived the Metropolitan Police Department’s security fees for the marathon for the past two years. Other organizations have to foot the bill for police overtime and other costs resulting from their special events. But in 2009, the city waived $200,000 in marathon-related fees; in 2010, it waived $285,263.06.

In addition to heading the GWSA, Sweeney is also the president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to “coordinate corporate philanthropy and support DC-based non-profit organizations that use sports to build character and leadership, [and] encourage physical fitness and enhance education.”

Tax records from 2008 show Sweeney spent 10 hours a week working on foundation activities, for which he received $75,000 in salary and $8,056 in expenses. That year, the foundation gave away only $13,780 in grants to other non-profits. (The GWSA, not the foundation, paid $15,100 in 2008 to sponsor fundraising events including a $10,100 grant to the Alexandria-based Leukemia & Lymphoma Society)

Together, the total expenses for the alliance and the foundation were nearly $2 million in 2008, tax records show. Sweeney’s compensation accounts for 22 percent of that number.

By comparison, the compensation of U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue—$3.8 million in 2008—represented only 2.5 percent of its expenses. Greater Washington Board of Trade CEO Jim Dinegar oversaw a budget of $5.3 million in 2008 but was paid a total of $367,927—nearly $50,000 less than Sweeney.

LL tried multiple times over the course of two weeks to get in touch with Sweeney, to no avail. Likewise, calls to GWSA’s executive committee, which sets his pay, went unreturned. In tax records, the GWSA says Sweeney’s compensation is based on what is paid by similar non-profit and for-profit sport organizations.

So is Sweeney’s high salary a worthy investment? GWSA’s recent successes include bringing the Frozen Four, college hockey’s playoffs, to the District last year. The organization will also bring the 2011 Army-Navy Game to FedExField, which is in Maryland. In a Washington Times article last year, Sweeney said the GWSA was also in on local bids to host the Gay Games, early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, and World Cup soccer games if the U.S. hosts the global tournament in 2018 or 2022.

The GWSA’s board has an impressive roster, including former Redskins Art Monk and Darrell Green. Dinegar, who is also a board member but doesn’t sit on the executive committee, says he’s been “pretty impressed” with the success of the marathon and GWSA’s efforts to lure other sporting events.

But At-Large D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson says Sweeney’s high salary makes it hard to justify the city cutting GWSA such generous breaks. “They’re pretty comfortable, and here we are waiving fees,” says Mendelson, who heads the council’s public safety committee. “It’s just hard to defend.”

LL tried to contact Diane Romo Thomas, the head of GWSA’s community relations and the wife of Ward 5’s councilmember, to learn more about what the GWSA’s charitable foundation does. LL got a frosty no comment from GWSA Vice President Christopher Browne in response: “The policy of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance is not to comment on matters pertaining to this subject. All information pertaining to this subject is a matter of public record.”

What’s also public record is the fact that the GWSA doesn’t forget its friends.

In the summer of 2008, socialite blogger Pamela Sorensen asked her readers to mark their calendars for a “private VIP” fundraiser for Evans. The host: GWSA Chairman Fernando Murias. The event, she wrote, was being organized for the GWSA “to show its appreciation” to Evans for securing the half a million earmark. To RSVP, invitees were asked to e-mail a GWSA employee. And if they couldn’t make it but were still interested in giving money, invitees were asked to send checks directly to the GWSA.

The July 10 fundraiser, held on the rooftop terrace of the Wooster condos in Arlington, included a number of big names, including Dinegar, John Kane of the Kane Company, and SunTrust CEO Scott Wilfong.

Six days after the event, the Evans 2008 campaign recorded a $500 donation from the GWSA, as well as several individual donations from people who attended the fundraiser. It’s impossible to tell from campaign finance records exactly how much Evans made off the fundraiser, but it looks like at least a couple grand.

(Incidentally, the GWSA marked “no” when asked on its tax records if the organization engaged “in director or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office. The organization’s accountant, David Graling, said it was a simple mistake and “sometimes stuff slips through.”)

LL asked Evans if he thought it looked bad that GWSA held a fundraiser and donated to his campaign after he secured a $500,000 earmark for the group.

“No, I think a lot of people give fundraisers for lots of people,” Evans said. “They are one of many, many, many groups and individuals that contributed to my campaign.” Evans raised more than $600,000 during the 2008 campaign.

Evans added that he was “completely unaware” of Sweeney’s salary and couldn’t comment without more information.

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