EDITORIAL/Auditor should frack Bigger Pie
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 12:00 AM
The State Auditor and a legislative watchdog committee say there's no merit to allegations that Bigger Pie Forum, an opponent of Mississippi Power Co.'s Kemper County plant, misappropriated state funds through another organization, but maybe they didn't drill far enough.
The story begins with The Institute for Technology Development, Inc., a tax-exempt organization that at one time controlled $4.8 million in assets (93% of that public support), according to a 2008 IRS document.
ITD's mission was "to improve Mississippi's standard of living through sustainable technology-based economic development in order to foster economic growth and development for the benefit of Mississippi."
By September 2009, ITD had been shuttered and organizers presumably needed to find a good cause within 501c3 guidelines, so in 2012 Bigger Pie Forum appeared to do investigative journalism aimed at crony capitalism.
Oftentimes there is an idea in search of funding, this was a case of funding looking for an idea.
Bigger Pie has since fought the $5 billion Kemper plant tooth and nail, saying it's a colossal mistake forced on Mississippi Power's 186,000 ratepayers by pressure to inflate the company's profits.
Bigger Pie says Mississippi Power should have built a natural gas plant instead, saying gas will be cheap for decades because of advances in drilling technology.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review and the auditor's office both said in December that Bigger Pie Forum isn't funded with state money, stopping inquiries.
JobKeeper Alliance, a union-linked group based in Montgomery, Ala., charged Bigger Pie was using public money from ITD.
PEER and the Auditor say ITD, which has millions in cash but is now largely dormant, no longer has any state funds, the Associated Press reported.
ITD says it has transferred as much as $400,000 to Bigger Pie, but says the funding comes from technology licensing proceeds and is not public money, the AP reported.
Did we mention that state Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, is ITD's lawyer?
Bigger Pie President Ashby Foote of course welcomed the findings, saying the initial charges were trumped up.
Maybe so, but in a 2005 Mississippi Business Journal article, Foote, President and Chief Investment Officer at Vector Money Management, was touting Callon Petroleum Company, an independent oil and natural gas company headquartered in Natchez, as a good investment.
Is Bigger Pie fighting for the natural gas industry or Mississippi consumers?
The anti-Kemper crowd has crowed about historically low natural gas prices. But earlier this month, the state Public Service Commission approved rate increases for Entergy Mississippi and Mississippi Power. Why? Natural gas prices are going up.
Without a full audit and more thorough public accounting, we'll just have to take their word for it.