Nonprofit Newswire | Nonprofits and Pols Shouldn’t Mix

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June 13, 2010; Source: New York Post | For the editors of Nonprofit Quarterly, it’s a theme we’ve raised many times over the years: keep politicians out of nonprofits. It doesn’t matter which political party is involved. There are just too many temptations for politicians with influence over public funds and access to special interest contributors to play a little too fast and loose.

The latest occurrence of this we find in an excellent story by Isabel Vincent in the New York Post. She tells the story of a second nonprofit founded by Congressman Gregory Meeks, the Rockaway Peninsula Civic Association (once headquartered at his parents’ house) which doesn’t seem able to show much for the $1.2 million in public funds it has received over the past 15 years.

The first of the dubious nonprofits founded by Meeks was a charity to provide Hurricane Katrina aid which kept the bulk of what it raised and distributed only a tiny proportion to Katrina victims). Somehow, the Rockaway Peninsula group has not filed nonprofit reports with the state or the federal government for most of the years of its existence.

The tip-off that something might be amiss is in the unwillingness of those involved to speak about the charity: Meeks refused questions, the nonprofit’s accountant wouldn’t talk, former Mayor David Dinkins who had a program named after him at the organization wouldn’t respond to calls, and the president of the charity, Hilda Gross, told the Post that “my work is done out of the goodness of my heart.”

Hearts are fine, but filing reports, accounting for funds, and answering questions are crucial components of nonprofit accountability. Being associated with an influential politician doesn’t absolve nonprofits of the basics of transparency and accountability.—Rick Cohen