Leaked Mozilla Tax Return Causes Furore
Written by Sue Gee   
Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization that is exempt from income tax. Even so, it has to complete an annual return for the United States Internal Revenue Service. The completed form for 2013 was posted to Hacker News, leading to heated debate.





OK "leaked" in the headline is misleading. Tax returns such as this are regularly a matter of public record and the initial small print of Form 990 reads: 

Do not enter Social Security numbers on this form as it may be made public.



Although the tax return is for the Mozilla Foundation, the fact that Mozilla Corporation is its wholly owned subsidiary means that the information in the form discloses the amounts paid to Mozilla's top brass in 2013:




It is the sums paid to Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation (total $801K); Brendan Eich, who back in 2013 was Mozzilla's CTO and a Director of the Board ($779K) and James Cook, Treasurer ($613K) that are the subject of negative attention.

It would indeed be scandalous if a non-profit that relies heavily on donations were to pay its officers at this level. But notice that the amounts are entered into the columns at the far right of the form - Column E which is for "Reportable compensation from related organizations" and Column F for "Estimated amount of other compensation for the organization and related organizations". The amounts for these individuals in Column D for "Reportable compensation from the organisation" is $0, the same as that for the other members of the Mozilla Foundation board who are not also employed by the Mozilla Corporation.

The salaries of those employed by the Mozilla Foundation range from $222K plus $20K in expenses or bonuses for its Executive director down to total remuneration in the region of $130K-150K for those that the level of Director. These would seem relatively modest were it not for the fact that Mozilla has a reputation for the low pay received by its paid employees and the amount of work done by unpaid volunteers.

Opinion in response to the post on Hacker News is divided.

The original poster starts the debate with:

Disgusting that a "non-profit" that begs for donations and unpaid labor from volunteers makes millionaires of its executives. How many salaried programmers on Earth, let alone at Mozilla, get paid that well?

At Mozilla, developers are paid below market salaries and don't get private offices. Meanwhile, Mozilla took in $314 million in revenue in 2013 and $311 million the year prior--more than enough to pay its programmers well and give them decent working conditions.

The managers at Mozilla should be paid less than the lowest-paid full-time programmer.

The initial reply was more moderate: 

"Non-profit" doesn't always mean "charity". It's a tax designation reserved for organizations that are dedicated to public good. It doesn't imply that the people working there aren't top-tier professionals who should command high salaries.

You say that the programmers are paid below market rate - so are the executives. A CEO of a company with $314M in revenue will rarely make that little in the for-profit world.

As this poster says there is a lot of room for debate but in coming to any conclusion we need to take into account the way in which Mozilla portrays itself, not only as an open source community, but also as the champion of ideals of equality and morality - look at how it treated Brendan Eich.  

Sympathy for Mozilla's "fat cats" isn't helped by the fact it is currently seen as an organization which is failing its loyal community of users and volunteer developers. 

Currently Mozilla Firefox is number three in the list of top browsers could it drop lower as its loyal users decide that it is no different from Google's Chrome or Microsoft's Edge? 




More Information

Mozilla Foundation Tax Return (pdf)

Related Articles

Bredan Eich Leaves Mozilla

The Perils Of Mozilla


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Last Updated ( Sunday, 23 August 2015 )