August 16, 2011; Source: Eagle-Tribune | Is the Republican Party becoming the party of political investigations of the nonprofit sector, even in states where Republicans are far from dominant? In Massachusetts, Republican state legislators Kevin Kuros and Sheila Harrington have asked for hearings regarding several nonprofits accused of “numerous allegations of misuse of taxpayer resources.” Among their targets: the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council (GLCAC) and the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative.
The problems at these agencies are undoubtedly serious. GLCAC has been slammed by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, whose April audit of the organization was absolutely devastating. Among the findings: Charges that the former executive director routinely left work between 11:00 and noon every day to hang out at a local Elks Club playing cards and video games before going home for the day, all the while claiming full days of work on time sheets. A management style that “embraced informal loyalties, double standards for behavior and privileges, and intolerance for constructive criticism, particularly affecting female managers.” Rampant conflicts of interest regarding the hiring of contractors and vendors related to GLCAC board members and executive leadership.
Meanwhile, the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative may have misspent as much as $30 million over the past two decades or so. This past June, the State Auditor alleged that over several years, the Collaborative’s director funneled at least $10 million in taxpayer funds to another nonprofit, where he used the money to pay himself an additional inflated salary plus a salary and benefits for his girlfriend and other associates. In addition, auditors found improper expenditures on alcohol, golf fees and country club outings, allegations of pension fraud and more.
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It may have taken the state what feels like a century and a half to figure out the score on GLCAC and the Collaborative, but things are happening. The State Auditor has called for the Collaborative to be placed under the management of an outside receiver. At GLCAC, the former director is out and a new interim executive director appears to be working diligently—with the state and federal government breathing down his neck—to correct the organization’s longtime governance and leadership problems.
Reps. Kuros and Harrington seemed to be particularly focused on GLCAC, as opposed to the much more financially profligate Merrimack Special Ed Collaborative. But the state is acting now to clean up both of those messes. If Kuros and Harrington want to hold hearings, it seems like their energy would be better spent not on launching broadsides against individual agencies, but rather on investigations into why the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is so deficient in its oversight of state-subsidized nonprofits that years of dysfunction and misspending could go unnoticed.—Rick Cohen