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NGOs bill aims to shed light on spending

Last Modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 11:26 AM

Those pesky nongovernmental organizations that receive state funding, and what to do with those that have questionable spending, are back in front of state lawmakers again.

The House Appropriations Committee has already approved by a 17-0 vote a bill by state Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, that would require all NGOs to conduct business in public meetings, make public their spending and financial records and agree to having all of their expenditures audited.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, who has spearheaded a campaign to bring more accountability to NGOs receiving state money, said Champagne’s bill is “just the first step.”

“If we are serious about reforming the NGO process, we need to do more,” said Kennedy. “No more burying NGO funding in the bowels of a 1,000-page budget; no more paying NGOs through intermediaries; and no more backdoor funding through hidden consulting contracts.”

Last year, Kennedy’s office found nearly three dozen NGOs had failed an executive order by Gov. Bobby Jindal to bring more accountability and transparency in the spending of taxpayer money. Thirteen organizations eventually provided sufficient paperwork to satisfy the requirements of the executive order. However, 21 organizations, which received nearly $2.5 million from the state, failed to meet the requirements and were turned over to the newly created Office of Debt Recovery and the Attorney General’s Office for immediate legal and collection action.

“Even if an organization has technically come into ‘compliance,’ this does not constitute an endorsement from Treasury of their spending practices,” said Kennedy. “In fact, I continue to have very serious questions and concerns about the accounting methods of these NGOs, and whether they represent a priority expenditure for the state. Taxpayers deserve a full and thorough review to find out where their money went.”

He also said that the 34 NGOs were referred to the state Department of Revenue to determine if they were properly maintaining their nonprofit status, and if not, whether they owed state or federal taxes.

According to Kennedy, the state through the years has provided at least $500 million in funding to NGOs.

“The real issue with NGOs is not whether they are worthy — some are, some aren’t — but whether they are as or more worthy than the state’s other competing needs, such as colleges, schools, roads, ports, health care, wetlands and small business,” said Kennedy. “If a public official decides to fund the Purple Circle Social Club before funding LSU, people deserve to know why.”

H.B. 225 will bring some desperately needed sunlight to the process of where the money goes and how it is spent. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t sail through both chambers of the Legislature and garner Jindal’s signature to make it law.

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