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Special Olympics budget controversy: behind the numbers at nonprofit

Trump ends plan to cut Special Olympics funds
  • The federal budget provides roughly 10 percent of Special Olympics revenue, based on filings with the IRS
  • Special Olympics says federal funds go to public school programs, not the games themselves
  • President Trump's budget each year has called for cutting funding for the program -- instead, Congress has raised it from $12.6 million in 2017's budget to $15.1 million in last year's and $17.6 million this year's

After bipartisan outrage on both sides of the political aisle in Congress, President Donald Trump overruled his own education secretary this week and cancelled a budget-cutting proposal to eliminate $17.6 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics.

The money accounts for roughly 10 percent of the group's overall revenue, based on annual tax filings with the IRS called Form 990s that are required of nonprofits and charities. But what are the dollars used for? And how does Special Olympics rate as a charitable operation? The group's IRS filings and websites like Charity Navigator and ProPublica offer the following answers: 

  • The Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, President John F. Kennedy's sister, to celebrate children with disabilities through athletic events and educational activities. Her 59-year-old son Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, said in a statement on the group's website this week that the U.S. Department of Education's funds don't go to the more well-known Olympics contest themselves. Instead, he wrote, the federal dollars go to "provide critical educational services in schools, supporting the development of children with special needs, supporting the learning about their peers, and supporting the teaching of critical, social and emotional skills such as grit, perseverance and inclusion."
  • Administrative expenses, including salaries for top officers, account for about 3.5 percent of the Special Olympics revenue of about $129 million, up from about $105 million the previous year, based on the group's 2017 Form 990, the latest publicly available. Special Olympics has roughly 1,200 volunteers. 
  • Board Chair Shriver and Vice Chair Loretta Claiborne are the only top board members listed with salaries that year. Shriver received $214,918 in salary in 2017, with other compensation listed at an estimated at $46,784. Claiborne's salary of $21,840 came without other compensation, according to the Form 990. CEO Mary Davis' salary is listed at $453,564 with other compensation listed at $33,432, according to the Form 990. 
  • Charity Navigator, a service that rates nonprofits and charities based on their financial disclosures, gives the Special Olympics an overall rating 90.49 percent out of a possible 100. Special Olympics earned an 88.52 for financing and 93 percent for transparency and accountability. Both measures are out of 100.
  • Special Olympics also spends about 13 percent on fundraising, according to the Form 990, audited statements and Charity Navigator.
  • Private contributions rose in 2017 compared to 2016 based on audited statements disclosed by the Special Olympics through 2017.  Direct mailings brought in almost $45 million both years. Total individual, corporate contributions and sponsorships rose to roughly $69 million in 2017, up from $46 million in 2016, according to the statements.
Dick Durbin, Betsy DeVos get in heated exchange over Special Olympics funding

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who had defended the proposed budget cut earlier this week by saying the Special Olympics "is well-supported by the philanthropic sector," ultimately said Thursday she was happy to abide by Mr. Trump's wish to continue the federal funding.


"I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant," DeVos said in a statement. "This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.