Chicago-based National Training and Information Center, a group devoted to supporting grassroots organizations, will pay the U.S. government $550,000 to settle a lawsuit that claims the group inappropriately used about $207,000 in Justice Department grants to lobby lawmakers about the awarding of more grants, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald said today in a statement.
NTIC received more than $3.1 million in grants between 2000 and 2002 through the DOJ Office of Justice Programs to run a Community Justice Empowerment Project in certain communities, according to the statement. During that time, NTIC received disbursements from DOJ grant funds to allegedly pay for food, lodging and transportation for a lobbying trip to D.C., which is illegal, the statement said.
“We are committed to ensuring that Justice Department grant monies allocated for worthwhile community initiatives are expended for the purposes that were approved, and are not used for any impermissible costs, such as lobbying Congress to provide more money in the future, as alleged in this case,” Fitzgerald said in the statement.
You can read the full settlement here.
A March 2008 DOJ Office of Inspector General audit report that led to the case against NTIC reveals more about the group’s questionable actions including the notes and agenda from the lobbying trip.
The report said:
- The official agenda for the second and third days of the July 2000 conference indicated that attendees would participate in training sessions on “How to Market the Community Justice Project” and role-playing activities. However, the internal planning notes indicated that NTIC trained sub-grantees on lobbying skills on the second day of the conference. Using these new skills, NTIC-led teams of sub-grantees participated in lobbying on Capitol Hill on the third day of the conference.
- The official agenda for the second and third days of the July 2001 conference indicated that sub-grantee attendees could participate in two workshops, one on “Fundraising or Working with the Media” and the second on “Marketing the Community Justice Empowerment Project,” and travel to Capitol Hill via bus on the third day. However, the planning agenda for the conference clearly indicated that the conference would adjourn at noon on the second day, OJP officials would depart, and lobbying strategy sessions as well as sessions in which participants practiced their lobbying skills through role play would begin. Finally, post conference feedback documents included specific statements regarding the lobbying such as “lobby period too short.”
- An e-mail from NTIC’s Executive Director regarding the September 2002 conference said, “Do we need to cover our [posterior] on our agenda for Monday at 1:00 pm and do fund raising or can we hokey up a title for a workshop ‘understanding how our government works’ or whatever?”
The DOJ Office of Inspector General audit report also claimed that NTIC did not keep complete, federally-mandated records on groups that applied for or received grants. The Requests for Proposals are supposed to have detailed information on prospective grantees including “organizational capability, soundness of the proposed strategy, qualifications of the project staff, clarity and appropriateness of the program implementation plan, and program budget,” the report said.
Instead of getting federally-required information on potential grantees, NTIC was more interested in the ability of a prospective grantee to lobby lawmakers on funding decisions so NTIC could keep its earmark status, according to the report. They even tried to cover up their actions, the report said quoting a “a key NTIC official.”
“We need to manage…covering our [posterior] with Justice on getting RFPs out to groups…and accommodating key congress people on [Appropriations Committee] by considering groups they recommend,” the official said.
NTIC was a driving force in the creation of the Community Reinvestment Act, which makes banks give loans to groups in underserved communities, Chicago Tribune’s Chicagonow.com reported.