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DJ Quiana Parks was part of the Black Girls Rock! Festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center in March 2020. (AP) DJ Quiana Parks was part of the Black Girls Rock! Festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center in March 2020. (AP)

DJ Quiana Parks was part of the Black Girls Rock! Festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center in March 2020. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 22, 2020

No, Kennedy Center and PBS didn’t pay COVID-19 kickbacks

If Your Time is short

  • The Kennedy Center and a nonprofit that funds PBS received money from the $2 trillion federal stimulus law in response to the coronavirus.

  • Both Kennedy and PBS are nonprofits that are prohibited by law from making political donations. Federal election records show they have not made any such donations.

When it came to the $2 trillion relief package for COVID-19, maybe few things fueled more political criticism than the $25 million that went to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Some Republicans blasted the earmark as federal largesse.

But worse than the Kennedy money are coronavirus kickbacks that followed, claimed a post shared 54,000 times on Facebook.

"So, the virus bill gives $25 million to the Kennedy Center (and) $200 million to PBS," the post says, referring to the Public Broadcasting Service. "In return, the Kennedy Center donates $5 million to the Democratic Party and PBS donates $25 million to the Democratic Party. This is flat-out money laundering and quid pro quo. Prove me wrong." 

With apologies, we will.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The Kennedy Center and PBS

The Kennedy Center opened in Washington, D.C., in 1971, eight years after the assassination of the 35th president for whom it is named. It is home to the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera. Among its most celebrated moments is the late Aretha Franklin’s performance of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," in 2015.

PBS is a private nonprofit owned by its more than 330 member public television stations and serves as an alternative to commercial broadcasting. It is funded mainly by those stations and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private nonprofit created and funded by the federal government that manages federal funding for public media. The children’s show "Sesame Street" (which moved to HBO after 45 years) and the dramatic series "Masterpiece" (formerly "Masterpiece Theatre") are among PBS’ most popular shows.

The stimulus law

The largest of the coronavirus stimulus packages adopted into law so far is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which was enacted March 27. 

"Keeping workers paid and employed, health care system enhancements and economic stabilization" are the primary aims of the overall bill. 

Features include payments of $1,200 per individual, subject to income limits, a $600 bonus added to weekly unemployment insurance checks and forgivable loans for small businesses to help them meet their payrolls. 

The Kennedy and PBS money

The $25 million in CARES money for the Kennedy Center is for such purposes as "deep cleaning," maintenance, telework upgrades, employee compensation, rent and utilities. The center is a federal entity funded by ticket revenue and congressional appropriations, so receiving funding through a congressional bill isn’t unusual.

Featured Fact-check

The Democratic House leadership had said in a statement that the Kennedy Center had lost more than $20 million in unrecoverable costs from canceled performances and could "become completely insolvent and potentially unable to reopen."

Because of COVID-19, the Kennedy Center closed March 12 and has canceled performances through at least May 22.

Meanwhile, it was the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS, and not PBS itself, that received $75 million in CARES funding — not $200 million. It is for "stabilization support" for stations seeing declines in non-federal revenues. 

As with the Kennedy Center, it is standard practice for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to receive its funding from congressional legislation.

"Public media stations are the backbone for most communities’ emergency alert, public safety, first-responder and homeland-security services," the same Democratic leadership statement said. "If stations are forced to cut jobs, reduce content and services, or close, the nation’s ability to deliver emergency alerts will be significantly diminished."

Kennedy Center, PBS can’t donate

There actually isn’t a legal way for the Kennedy Center or PBS to show their appreciation for politicians through campaign contributions.

Because the Kennedy Center and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and tax-exempt organization with the Internal Revenue Service, they are prohibited from making political contributions. 

501(c)(3) is the section of the Internal Revenue Code that applies to charitable organizations that can receive tax-deductible donations. Aside from donating, they cannot attempt to influence legislation "as a substantial part of its activities" and cannot participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

Fact-checkers Lead Stories, Snopes and FactCheck.org each reported that the Kennedy Center did not make a $5 million donation. So did the Reuters news agency.

Our search of Federal Election Commission records also show no political contributions at all being made by the Kennedy Center or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or PBS.

We also checked the Federal Election Commission records for any contributions made by employees of those three entities on or after March 27, the day President Donald Trump signed the CARES bill into law. We didn’t find any.

Our ruling

A Facebook post shared more than 54,0000 times claimed that the Kennedy Center gave $25 million and the corporation that funds PBS gave $5 million to the Democratic Party after the two entities received millions from a federal stimulus law in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Both nonprofits are barred by law from making political contributions and we found no evidence that they have.

We rate the post False.

 

Our Sources

Facebook, post, April 2, 2020

Snopes, "Did the Kennedy Center Donate Stimulus Money to the DNC?," April 1, 2020

FactCheck.org, "Kennedy Center Didn’t Contribute to Democrats," April 7, 2020

Lead Stories, "Fact Check: Kennedy Center Did NOT Give DNC $5M After Getting $25M In Relief From Coronavirus Stimulus," March 30, 2020

PolitiFact, "Facebook post shortchanges relief bill’s assistance for laid-off workers," March 31, 2020

Reuters, "False claim: After receiving $25 million in aid, the Kennedy Center donated $5 million to the DNC and fired employees," April 15, 2020

PolitiFact, "Nancy Pelosi’s daughter isn’t on the Kennedy Center Board," April 3, 2020

PolitiFact, "The Senate stimulus bill: What’s in it for you," March 26, 2020

Congress.gov, "H.R.748 - CARES Act," accessed April 21, 2020

Internal Revenue Service, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Kennedy Center 2019 tax form, accessed April 21, 2020

ProPublica, Corporation for Public Broadcasting 1099 tax form for period ending Sept. 30, 2018, accessed April 21, 2020

Washington Post, "Why the Kennedy Center got money in the bailout bill," March 27, 2020

Internal Revenue Service, "Exemption Requirements - 501(c)(3) Organizations," March 17, 2020

Internal Revenue Service, "Frequently Asked Questions About the Ban on Political Campaign Intervention by 501(c)(3) Organizations: Contributions to Political Organizations," Dec. 20, 2019

Federal Election Commission, individual contributions search for John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Kennedy Center, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Broadcasting System, April 21, 2020

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More by Tom Kertscher

No, Kennedy Center and PBS didn’t pay COVID-19 kickbacks

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