April 26, 2010; Source: Huffington Post | Frequent NPQ contributor, Fran Barrett, is the founder of one of the nation’s most admirable community capacity building and organizational development organizations, the Community Resource Exchange, serving tons of nonprofits in New York City. Here, she is incensed that corruption-flooded charitable organizations linked to New York State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada have not only been outed for a number of shady activities, but that Espada’s charitable escapades are sullying nonprofits and the oversight nonprofits receive (in New York, according to Barrett, the reaction to Espada’s charitable doings seems to have been, “how did he get away with it?”).

Barrett points out how nonprofits deal with several sometimes contradictory layers of oversight, including their government agency contracts at the city, state, and federal level, A-133 audits at the federal level, VENDEX questionnaires at the New York City level, audits by city and state agencies, oversight by the New York State Charities Bureau, and much more. Barrett thinks the crooks, 0.002 percent of the 25,000 nonprofits in New York, may begin their operations with a weak board that is beholden to the nonprofit CEO. That may well be, but the particular character of Espada’s nonprofit was not just its weak board beholden to the CEO, but its being tied to powerful sitting politicians.

Here at the NPQ, we’ve run several articles on political charities and suggested in no uncertain terms that politicians with their own foundations and charities, particularly those funded through earmarks (or in New York City parlance, “members items”), have a greater likelihood of skirting the rules than the 99.998 percent of nonprofits Barrett knows are on the up and up.

Barrett’s right to remind readers that Espada’s nonprofits are hardly representative of the vast majority of the nonprofit sector.  But it is still time, as it always is, to protect the reputation and trustworthiness of nonprofits through scrutinizing much more carefully the numerous nonprofits tied to sitting politicians.—Rick Cohen