An institute of change
ASPEN The Aspen Institute has come a long way since Walter Paepcke founded it in 1950, but its goal is the same – it remains a place where thinkers, artists and leaders regularly gather. Today, with trustees such as Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, Madeleine Albright and Michael Eisner, the institute earns respect from both sides of the aisle and can bring together broad ranges of people for discussions, as this week’s Aspen Ideas Festival evidenced.After scandals surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff came to a head last year, the Institute sometimes has found itself defending the right to pay for trips of congressional representatives and their spouses. For this year’s Ideas Festival, the institute paid for all of its 280 presenters, who accepted travel costs and room and board. Travel has become such a controversial issue that the Aspen Institute Congressional Program invitations now have a printed copy of the Ethics Committee ruling clarifying how the trips conform to congressional travel rules. The institute’s policy programs are one of its biggest line-item expenses, accounting for $17.6 million in 2005, according to tax records. Other sizable expenses include campus activities (lodging and meals) listed at $11.4 million and seminars at $2.4 million, records show. The Aspen Institute – which boasts campuses in Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, New Delhi, Aspen and other cities, as well as its Washington, D.C., headquarters – lists more than $10 million worth of land and $500,000 in artwork, among other assets.Financial growth at the institute has been rising steadily over the past three years (up to 2005, the most recent reported tax year), with revenues increasing at more than $10 million annually.
Net assets have increased from $70 million in 2003 to $108 million in 2005. Expenses have increased similarly – such that in 2005, expenses topped $55 million. The institute’s highest-paid employee President and CEO Walter Isaacson, earns $450,000 a year, and three other employees top out with more than $200,000 each. The top six employees make a combined total of $1.45 million. Those top six make more than the institute’s grant-giving arm gave out in 2004 and 2005, both years when grants barely topped $1 million. In 2005, however, grants skyrocketed to $15 million, mostly on account of a single grant of $13.4 million to the Economic Cooperation Foundation, which is a think tank that supports a two-state solution to the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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