CAGLE/Taxpayer funds fighting Kemper?
Wednesday, November 6, 2013 12:00 AM
A hit dog will holler, and that is exactly what the Institute for Technology Development (ITD) and Bigger Pie Forum's Kelley Williams is doing. However, his response to the allegations that ITD is misusing taxpayer money raises more questions than it answers.
The controversy stems from the use of proceeds ITD earned using millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies given to them over two decades to support their efforts to promote technology-based economic development in Mississippi. In its most recent IRS filing, ITD stated that "basically all activities were phased out in the 2009 fiscal year." They also reported residual assets worth nearly five million dollars. Williams, a director of ITD, has recently been forced to admit that Bigger Pie Forum, a newly formed organization that he chairs, has received some of ITD's unused funds.
Under Williams' direction, Bigger Pie Forum is using the money from ITD to fund its fight against a power plant being constructed in Kemper County, one of the state's largest technology-based economic development projects. Williams reluctantly confirmed rumors of the money transfer shortly after JobKeeper Alliance made the public aware of the issue by asking State Auditor Stacey Pickering to investigate the possible misuse of taxpayer money by ITD.
Instead of explaining why he used public funds to fund a personal agenda, Williams responded to our call for an investigation with self-righteous indignation and untrue attacks against those seeking to hold him accountable. Desperate to take the spotlight off himself and his organizations, Williams is relying on an anti-union sentiment as a last-ditch effort to save face. In truth, he feels threatened by the fact that JobKeeper Alliance is a bipartisan 501c(4) nonprofit formed as a partnership between the conservative business community and labor groups. The bond forged between these unlikely allies is their shared desire to create and protect quality jobs.
Williams has tried his best to paint JobKeeper as a partisan front for Alabama unions, but that dog won't hunt. His obvious attempt to mischaracterize the organization I represent is repudiated by my personal and professional background. In the 2012 Republican Primary, I ran as a delegate for Mitt Romney. Over the last 18 months, I have worked hand in hand with notable business groups and labor organizations that have never before worked together to advance a shared interest. This uncommon alliance has emerged as the preeminent advocate for jobs in a wide-range of industries, including mining, energy, and transportation infrastructure. JobKeeper Alliance is a far cry from what Williams describes.
While it is true that we are based in Alabama, JobKeeper Alliance is interested and involved in a number of issues across several states, including Mississippi. As Williams points out, we are deeply interested in an investigation to review the transfer of ITD funds that Bigger Pie Forum is using to fight against a project responsible for 6,000 Mississippi jobs. But we are also deeply concerned in other Mississippi matters. This includes escalating protests by Sierra Club and other radical environmental activists seeking to delay - and eventually stop - construction of the final segments of an oil sands pipeline stretching from Alabama to Mississippi. These activists are fighting a philosophical battle against oil sands with the potential of disrupting the base oil project nearing completion at Chevron's Pascagoula refinery.
Williams is making patently false statements about JobKeeper in a desperate attempt to shift the public's attention away from the real issue: ITD's possible misuse of public funds. Though shortsighted, that strategy is better than issuing a response that raises more concerns than it addresses. On August 20, 2013, ITD and Bigger Pie Forum issued a joint press release falsely claiming that ITD has not received taxpayer money since 1995, and that investments "constitute ITD's only source of funds since the mid-1990s." Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, public records clearly show ITD was appropriated taxpayer funds in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. This verified lie damages ITD's creditability and once again underscores the need for an independent investigation.
That same joint release stated that "ITD formed Bigger Pie Forum as a Mississippi limited liability company to continue its mission of education and promotion of economic development." It is notable that this revelation marks the first time ITD or Bigger Pie Forum has publicly mentioned any direct connection between the two entities.
What logical reason could ITD have for waiting 19 months to disclose that it created Bigger Pie Forum as a direct subsidiary of ITD, to purportedly continue its mission?
Why was the connection only revealed after weeks of intense public scrutiny? What else are Williams and his cohorts hiding from the public?
For two decades, ITD operated as a nonprofit organization best described as a quasi-governmental entity. This classification is supported by Miss. Code Ann. § 31-29-1 through § 31-29-29, which codifies the state's authority to issue bonds to help fund ITD and details the requirement for both legislative and executive branch oversight to ensure the appropriate use of public funds. State law even exempts ITD from having to pay sales tax.
Williams' claim that ITD has no taxpayer money is tantamount to a U.S. Post Office branch being taken off the public dole and then later claiming the money they earned from selling stamps belongs to them, not the taxpayers.
We are asking State Auditor Stacey Pickering to look at ITD's books and determine whose money Bigger Pie Forum is using to fight an economic development project. If Williams and ITD truly believe they are not misusing taxpayer funds, they should welcome an independent audit. The citizens of Mississippi cannot, however, take the word of Williams or ITD, as its credibility has been irreparably harmed by the now confirmed fictions both have willingly perpetuated.
Patrick Cagle is executive director of http://www.jobkeeperalliance.org. JobKeeper Alliance, a nonprofit partnership whose mission is to create and protect quality jobs. Email: Patrick@JobKeeperAlliance.org