Beam: Duo holding NGOs accountable

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Most Louisiana legislators wouldn’t

admit it publicly, but a number of them feel nothing but disdain for

state Treasurer John

Kennedy and private citizen and government watchdog C.B.

Forgotston. That’s because both men are continually bringing up serious

problems and issues that lawmakers aren’t ready and willing to

tackle.

I checked the definition of “disdain” to be certain it was the correct word. It fits perfectly. The dictionary describes disdain

as “the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect.”

Kennedy and Forgotston work independently, but happen to both be concentrating on the same subject at the moment. They are

publicizing the fact that 34 state non-government organizations (NGOs) aren’t following executive orders and the law when

it comes to reporting what they have done with some $4.5 million tax dollars.

This is just another in a long list of

problems Kennedy has spotlighted over the years. Taxpayers like his

ideas, but lawmakers

and state bureaucrats dismiss most of his suggestions. They call

them unworkable or unrealistic. Some even suggest he’s just

a publicity hound.

Forgotston isn’t quite that lucky.

Legislators don’t even give him the time of day. Most pretend he doesn’t

exist. Nevertheless,

he trudges on, and does have many followers. A column in The

Sunday Star of Hammond even called him the “Sage of Tangipahoa

Parish.”

The NGOs that the two are confronting

are a small number of the many hundreds of private organizations that

have received

state money since 1984. The handouts began that year when former

Gov. Edwin W. Edwards gave black legislators from urban areas

$7 million to be used on local projects in return for their

support of a successful $1 billion tax package.

Rural legislators decided they wanted a piece of the action, so the $7 million in what the Public Affairs Research Council

called “slush funds” grew to $20 million. The handouts also took on a more respectable name — Urban and Rural Development

Funds. Accountability was non-existent. Most government agencies and non-government organizations that got the money spent

it as they pleased.

The liberal spending of state tax

dollars on NGOs continued almost unabated until former Gov. Kathleen

Blanco abolished the

funds early in her term (2004-08). However, they resurfaced in the

budget under a title called “State Aid to Local Government

Entities.”

State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, had been trying for years to bring more accountability to NGO spending. He finally

succeeded when he attached such an amendment to what became Act 842 of 2008.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who took office

earlier that year, vetoed 258 special spending items in 2008, more than

doubling the previous

budget years combined. His administration also outlined criteria

for funding of NGOs. They had to have a substantial regional

impact, be presented during the legislative session, have state

agency priority and proper disclosure online.

Even so, over $24 million got into the budget in the capital construction bill. The ploy didn’t go unnoticed by Forgotston.

“Thus, not only are we giving NGOs state cash, but now the state is borrowing money to fund NGOs...,” Forgotston said at the

time.

Despite the reforms initiated by Blanco

and Jindal, the spending has continued without full accountability. But

now there

is a new element, thanks to Kennedy’s initiative. He brought the

issue back into the spotlight last month when he called out

the 34 NGOs that aren’t reporting information that is required by

law.

“We now have an agency in state

government with teeth whose sole mission is to ensure every penny owed

to the taxpayers is

recovered,” Kennedy said. He is talking about the Office of Debt

Recovery that was created at the spring legislative session.

“While most NGOs have worked in good faith with our office and have been in compliance, these 34 organizations have become

the most flagrant violators of these important requirements,” he said.

Since Kennedy’s announcement,

Forgotston has released reports on 10 NGOs. Each ends by asking

legislators in the affected

areas if those appropriations are more important than properly

funding their higher education institutions. One area legislator

said he isn’t a fan of Forgotston’s, but thinks he is rendering a

service to taxpayers.

Kennedy said he has tried to contact some of the 34 organizations with little success. Some don’t even have working phone

numbers.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, says Kennedy has mistakenly placed her husband’s non-profit agency (the Colomb

Foundation) on the list.

“I think that the documents may be in

(Kennedy’s) office and they’re lost,” Dorsey-Colomb told The Times

Picayune. She noted

that Kennedy’s recent office moves might be the reason for the

mistake. She said documentation will be complete by the Sept.

4 deadline, and Kennedy confirmed his office had been contacted.

Whatever the case, taxpayers can only hope that the new state Office of Debt Recovery takes its responsibilities seriously

and holds these 34 organizations accountable. And make no mistake about it, none of this would have come to light without

Kennedy’s input and Forgotston’s follow-up. They have done taxpayers a big favor.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com