Illinois Farm Bureau’s employees reap increased salaries

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The Illinois Farm Bureau's graphic on its Careers web page.

It pays to work for the Illinois Farm Bureau. 

The nonprofit organization’s three top earners all experienced pay increases between fiscal years 2020 and 2022, according to Form 990s obtained using Candid’s nonprofit database Guidestar

Country Financial CEO Jim Jacobs is the highest-paid employee of the bureau and its related organizations. In 2022, he received $1,881,115 in total compensation — an increase of over 40%, or $539,164, since 2020. Unlike most reported employees, Jacobs has $0 listed under reportable compensation from the organization and instead receives most of his compensation from related organizations.

Farm bureaus are nonprofit organizations intended to support farmers with education and political action. The national arm, called the American Farm Bureau Federation, is based in Washington, D.C. and all 50 states and Puerto Rico have their own affiliate farm bureaus. 

The affiliate in Illinois, known as the Illinois Farm Bureau but officially named the Illinois Agricultural Association, is based in Bloomington. Its primary mission as described on its website is to “improve the economic well-being of agriculture and enrich the quality of family farm life.” According to its website, the bureau currently has over 400,000 members.

The next two highest-paid employees are Jennifer Vance, the organization’s general counsel, who made a total of $835,000; and Alan Dodds, the vice president of finance and treasurer, who made a total of $546,000. Each had increased total compensation compared with the previous year.

As a nonprofit organization, the bureau is required to fill out a tax Form 990 each year. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires these tax forms to be publicly available

Guidestar has a detailed profile of the Illinois Agricultural Association and its Form 990s dating back to 2004. CU-CitizenAccess focused on the forms from 2020, 2021 and 2022 for this report. The most recent Form 990 for the bureau on GuideStar is for 2022, or the tax year beginning in September 2021 and ending in August 2022.

Last year, the bureau had just over $57 million in total revenue, an increase from the previous year. Its total expenses were $55.7 million, leading to a “revenue less expenses difference,” or net income, of just $1.3 million. This is the smallest difference in the last four years.

However, based on previous years of tax forms, the bureau often keeps its revenue and expenses close — the difference never rose above $3 million in the last four years.

An estimated 8,000 volunteers contributed to the bureau in 2022, but the organization only had 380 official employees. Jacobs, the CEO of Country Financial, received over $1.5 million from related organizations and an additional $340,000 of “other” compensation.

The bureau listed its total expenses for compensation of current officers, directors, trustees and key employees as $3.5 million, and other salaries and wages at $21.5 million.

Between 2021 and 2022, the revenue and expenses of the bureau increased by 5.9% and 7.8%, respectively. Between 2020 and 2021, these increases were –0.5% and –1.3%.

The number of employees in 2020 and 2021 stayed at 372, but eight people were hired in 2022, bringing the total to 380. Jacobs, Vance and Dodds are still the highest-paid employees dating back to 2020, and each of their total compensations increased each year. 

Overall, the bureau’s financial status has stayed fairly consistent over the last three years. 

Bureau reports no lobbying, but members use political action committee

In each year of forms, the Illinois Farm Bureau reported $0 in lobbying expenses. Additionally, it did not provide an answer for whether the organization engaged in lobbying activities — one of just a few questions left unanswered on the “Checklist of Required Schedules.” 

But that’s not because the bureau avoids political involvement — it’s because it channels it through a separate political action committee called Illinois ACTIVATOR.

The political action committee was created in 1985, according to its website, and lists “encourage good government,” “head off burdensome legislation,” and “respond to farmers’ positions and the changing political climate” as a few of its main goals.

Many pages of its website, including the executive committee and election cycle report, are restricted to Farm Bureau members only and require a login. 

According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, the chair of Illinois ACTIVATOR is Jeff Kirwan, and the treasurer is Alan Dodds — who is also the vice president of finance for the farm bureau. 

Between 2021 and 2022, ACTIVATOR gave 78.5% of their contributions to Republican candidates and the remaining 21.5% to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets. Its top-receiving candidate was Glenn Thompson, a Republican U.S. representative from Pennsylvania. He received $5,684. 

Following him were Rodney Davis and Esther Joy King, both Republicans from Illinois. King lost her last election against Eric Sorensen for Illinois’s 17th Congressional District, and Davis lost in his last primary against another incumbent due to redistricting. Nikki Budzinski ended up taking Davis’ spot to represent his old district, which includes Champaign and Urbana. 

However, it is not unheard of for a Democrat to receive money from ACTIVATOR. Robin Kelly, the Democratic representative for Illinois’s 2nd District, received $3,000 from the group in 2022.

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