Comic-Con Doesn’t Pay City License Fees

Posted by at 10:19 am on June 15, 2011

Comic-Con met a city deadline of June 2 to submit an application for a business license—after operating in La Mesa for five years without one.

According to records with the city of La Mesa, the San Diego Comic Convention—which hosts a conference that attracts thousands from around the world—is doing business as “Comic-Con International & WonderCon & APE.”

Its business license was issued May 25.

But Jolene Cayas, the La Mesa’s business license officer, said Comic-Con paid no fees with its license.

That’s because the operation—which prepares for the world-renowned July convention at the San Diego Convention Center—is considered “exempt” from fees since it is legally a nonprofit organization, meeting IRS rules for tax-exempt status. It pays no state or federal taxes.

Comic-Con—a 501(c)(3) organization—files annual Form 990 reports listing its revenues, expenses, director and employee compensation as well as the mission that qualifies it as a nonprofit.

According to the latest Form 990 available—filed in July 2010 for the tax year ending Aug. 31, 2009—Comic-Con “is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.”

Comic-Con had revenues that year of $9.17 million and expenses of $8.21 million for an “excess … for the year” of $955,456, according to IRS filings (attached).

The operation’s executive director, Dona Fae Desmond, made $84,742 that year, averaging 50 hours a week. Among its directors, President John Rogers was paid $18,000 for workweeks averaging 9 hours. Vice President Robin Donlan made $14,418 for 14-hour workweeks.

Comic-Con has had nonprofit status since 1975, which is well-known.

A San Diego Union-Tribune report of July 27, 2007, quoted Sandra Miniutti, a vice president  for Charity Navigator, as  saying:  “It is a real stretch to call a group whose purpose is to  promote comics via a highly commercialized event a charity. How does  that benefit the greater good of society?”

But since nonprofits generally have some charitable purpose, Comic-Con has raised eyebrows for years.

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