April 25, 2011; Source: Politico | When Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) issues a report describing some of the seamier activities of a member of Congress, the member of Congress might protest vociferously, but CREW’s research is usually painstakingly correct.

The latest CREW investigation takes aim at Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY), the new chair of the House Appropriations Committee, for his distinctive generosity with federal funds toward nonprofits in his home area of Eastern Kentucky. There’s nothing wrong with a Congressman scoring for his district, particularly an economically challenged part of Appalachia like Rogers’ home region, but these nonprofits he funneled money to are distinctive in a particular way: They were generally created by the Congressman and are stocked with staff and board members who are or were Rogers campaign staff, Congressional staff, political donors, or family members.

The tainted nonprofits include the Center for Rural Development (the CRD board chair set up Rogers’ PAC), Forward in the Fifth (largely run from CRD), the Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation, the Southern & Eastern Kentucky Tourist Development Association (Rogers’ district office administrator was secretary of the board), Eastern Kentucky Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment (PRIDE’s president and CEO is a former Rogers staff person), Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education (same president/CEO as PRIDE), National Institute for Hometown Security (Rogers’ and Republican Party operatives among incorporators), and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (founded back in 1968, linked financially and managerially to all the others). The full report (PDF) reads like the cast of characters in a Dostoevsky novel, worth the read if you like to see how investigative analysis works.

Rogers argues that these groups have been great engines for economic prosperity in eastern Kentucky. But CREW CEO Melanie Sloan says it isn’t clear what these groups have received federal money to do and what programs and functions they exist to carry out.

Not only have these nonprofits landed generous federal earmarks to the tune of $236 million since 2000, Rogers has funneled another $227 million to for-profit firms in the region, many with staff and board members overlapping with the nonprofit beneficiaries of Rogers’ federal financial legerdemain. The CREW report paints a pretty seamy picture of Rep. Rogers’ neighborhood.

Until the CREW report, was this information secret? Was Rogers’ connections to these nonprofit and for-profit entities kept entirely under wraps? Because many of these nonprofits exist to serve business interests in Kentucky, some of these 501(c)(3)s appear to be a little short on “nonprofitness.” Shouldn’t the legitimate nonprofits in the region have taken a moment to call out these political nonprofits for what they are and whose interests they served?—Rick Cohen