ITD & Bigger Pie Forum Lie About Use of Taxpayer Money Being Used to Fight MS Jobs

Press release issued by JobKeeper Alliance on August 27, 2013 

Take Away Points:

  • ITD lied when they said they’ve not received any taxpayer money since the “mid-1990’s.” State appropriation documents show they’ve received millions between 1995 and 2002*.
  • ITD admitted transferring taxpayer money to Bigger Pie Forum.
  • JobKeeper again calls on a full investigation and accounting of all taxpayer money and activities by both ITD and Bigger Pie Forum to help protect the public trust.

 In a joint press release last week with Bigger Pie Forum, ITD, a taxpayer-funded “economic development” organization admitted it used taxpayer money to form and fund Bigger Pie Forum in 2012. Now, to cover their misdeeds, the organizations are lying to avoid having to come clean about their misappropriation of money entrusted to them by the taxpayers of Mississippi.

“It is outrageous to claim, like ITD and Bigger Pie do, that the profits from taxpayer funded investments somehow belong to Kelley Williams and his personal agenda rather than the taxpayers of Mississippi,” said Patrick Cagle, executive director of JobKeeper Alliance. “JobKeeper Alliance is calling for an investigation of both ITD and Bigger Pie Forum to get to the bottom of how taxpayer money was spent in an attempt to kill jobs in Mississippi. Without an investigation, we may never know the extent to which taxpayer funds have been squandered by Williams and his cronies.”

“In addition to this bit of ENRON accounting, ITD and Bigger Pie Forum shamelessly lie when they claim they have not received any taxpayer money since the mid-1990s. In fact, public records clearly show, in spite of their obvious lie, ITD was appropriated taxpayer funds in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.* The fact that they are telling such a verifiable lie should serve as an insult to Mississippians and their elected leaders.”

Kelley Williams, who sits on the board of both ITD and Bigger Pie Forum, has used taxpayer money to fund his personal project, Bigger Pie Forum, with absolutely no public oversight. To date, Williams refuses to disclose exactly how that money has been spent.

“They are basically telling Mississippi taxpayers that they will use public money any way they see fit,” Cagle said.

Bigger Pie Forum is a group that has been aggressively fighting against economic development projects in Mississippi, an activity in direct conflict with ITD’s original charter to foster economic development in the state.

Bigger Pie Forum has already been forced to admit it is funded by taxpayer money through ITD. The questions that have not been answered are A) how much taxpayer money Bigger Pie received from ITD, B) why it received it, C) if Williams was directly responsible for the group receiving it, and D) how those funds have been spent.

JobKeeper Alliance is determined to set the record straight about ITD and Bigger Pie Forum and is calling for a full accounting and investigation of ITD’s and now Bigger Pie Forum’s expenditures of public money.

“At best, the use of this public money by Kelley Williams and Bigger Pie Forum is an unethical move that deserves official scrutiny,” Cagle said. “At worst, this is an illegal act involving taxpayer money that merits a full investigation at the highest level. Until Kelley Williams and his accomplices come clean about the transfer of money from ITD to Bigger Pie Forum, or are forced to reveal the truth through an official investigation, JobKeeper Alliance will continue to raise these questions and expose this betrayal of the public’s trust.”

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 *Known regular session legislative appropriations made to ITD: 1985 (SB2984 appropriated $4,000,000); 1986 (SB2903 appropriated $1,000,000); 1987 (SB 2959 appropriated $1,000,000 up to $2,000,000); 1988 (SB3104 appropriated $1,000,000); 1989 (SB2993 appropriated $1,000,000); 1993 (HB1587 appropriated $260,000); 1995 (SB2641 appropriated $2.5 Million); 1998 (SB3224 appropriated $750,000); 1999 (SB3155 appropriated $750,000); 2000 (SB3260 appropriated $750,000); 2001 (SB3106 appropriated $650,000). Additionally, the legislature authorized the issuance of up to $10,000,000 in bonds for the benefit of ITD in the 1987 regular legislative session (SB2857).

Recoup Taxpayer Money Being Used by Bigger Pie Forum to Fight Mississippi Jobs

Editorial by Patrick Cagle
(Originally published by The Clarion-Ledger on August 15, 2013)

JobKeeper Alliance, a nonprofit partnership formed between the business community and labor to advocate for the creation and protection of good-paying jobs, recently called on state leaders to investigate the transfer of taxpayer money to the Bigger Pie Forum.

The money at issue is unused funds held by the no longer operational Institute for Technology Development, a nonprofit subsidized by Mississippi taxpayers for two decades to the tune of $32 million. ITD was given taxpayer funds to support its mission of “fostering technology-based economic development.” Now, ITD is giving proceeds earned from the use of this taxpayer money to Bigger Pie Forum and financing its fight against one of the state’s largest high-tech economic development projects, a clean-coal power plant currently being built in Kemper County.

Kelley Williams and Ashby Foote are at the center of this controversy. Williams and Foote are the driving forces behind Bigger Pie Forum and officers of ITD, according to forms the nonprofit filed with the IRS. Foote recently told the Jackson Free Press that “Bigger Pie Forum has used some profits from ITD businesses.” Foote’s statement raises serious ethical and legal questions. How does a publicly subsidized nonprofit generate a “profit?” Why are ITD’s unused funds not being returned to the state to repay the taxpayer money invested in the organization? Did taxpayer money go to Bigger Pie Forum at the direction of Foote and Williams?

The same Mississippi state law that grants authority to the Legislature to appropriate funds to ITD also grants the state auditor the authority to audit the publicly funded nonprofit. JobKeeper Alliance sponsored a petition signed by 1,489 citizens that calls on State Auditor Stacey Pickering to exercise his authority and investigate the transfer of money from ITD to Bigger Pie Forum. In response to our request, Pickering informed us that this issue was “on his radar” and that he plans to ask the U.S. Treasury inspector general to review its use of federal funds.

While we support his decision to call for a federal investigation, we caution him against abdicating his responsibility to the federal government. Instead, we urge Pickering to launch his own parallel investigation into ITD, review its use of more than $32 million in state funds, and determine whether the $5 million in assets the mothballed nonprofit reported to the IRS should be returned to the state.

Pickering has earned a reputation as a diligent watchdog of public funds, and we are confident that he will seize this opportunity to return millions of taxpayer dollars to state coffers. In the meantime, we urge Williams and Foote to stop using public money to fund their fight against a major economic development project that has created 6,000 Mississippi jobs.

It is ironic that Bigger Pie Forum is on the public dole, given that the group’s purported mission is to promote a less-government, free-market philosophy explicitly opposed to taxpayer-funded subsidies for private business.

We can finally pull the curtain back on this shadowy group and see it is costing Mississippi jobs while taking government handouts. The only question left is why.

Bigger Pie Forum Fighting for Gas Industry, Not Mississippi Consumers

The Bigger Pie Forum’s Kelley Williams and Ashby Foote have a personal stake in seeing Mississippi run solely on natural gas. Their personal agenda will cost jobs and put Mississippi’s families and businesses at great risk.

What Williams, Foote, and Bigger Pie Forum Say

Kelley Williams, Ashby Foote, and Bigger Pie Forum have argued that natural gas is a superior fuel source, touting the abundance and low cost of natural gas and promoting the controversial hydraulic fracturing process (fracking) as a major element of this “gas bonanza”. Foote often writes about the “gas bonanza” and suggests that natural gas, a historically volatile commodity, is the end-all solution for Mississippi’s energy future.[1] As a cohort in Bigger Pie Forum, Williams echoes Foote’s enthusiasm for natural gas, arguing that natural gas plants are the best choice for electricity generation.

Both Williams and Foote have criticized a new power plant in Kemper County, arguing that the state’s Public Service Commission should force the owner, Mississippi Power, to build a power plant fueled by natural gas instead. If it were up to Williams and Foote, in fact, all electricity generation in Mississippi would come from natural gas.

Williams and Foote Are Connected to the Gas Industry

Kelley Williams is a veteran of the oil and gas industry whose company, First Mississippi Corporation, was involved in natural gas exploration. At one point, Williams’s company owned tens of thousands of gas wells and gas leases across 1.5 million acres of America. Williams and his natural gas colleagues have earned tens of millions from oil and gas production.[2] If the Mississippi public is looking for an unbiased perspective on energy sources, Kelley Williams, with his long history in the gas industry, is the last person you should ask.

Similar to Williams, Ashby Foote has been investing his client’s money in the natural gas industry long before the controversial extraction method known as fracking led to what he calls an energy paradigm shift.[3] In 2005, Foote touted Callon Petroleum Company, an oil and natural gas producer, as a wise investment.[4] That same year, natural gas prices peaked 340% higher than the current market price.[5] Foote should know from personal experience just how volatile the price of natural gas is. And like Williams, he is far from a neutral observer on fuel sources.

Williams and Foote are not journalists looking to help Mississippi customers. They are natural gas insiders looking to help themselves and their friends in natural gas.

A Natural Gas Monopoly Puts Mississippi Jobs At Great Risk

Natural gas prices are low today, but there is no guarantee they will remain low. Less than five years ago, natural gas prices were double what they are today.[6] Even in the past six months, natural gas prices have swung by as much as 30%. Natural gas prices that remain stable, without intense price spikes, would be the exception to the rule for what the U.S. has experienced over past decades.

Making Mississippi over-reliant on the price of natural gas puts electricity customers at great risk of significant price volatility. This lack of price predictability drives away existing jobs, makes new businesses harder to recruit, and burdens families. The better solution for the long-term is to generate power from a broad variety of sources, not to put all of our energy eggs into one basket.

By opposing the construction of a new Kemper County power plant, Kelley Williams and Ashby Foote are threatening the jobs of 5,000 workers currently completing construction of the new facility. Even more dangerous, they are supporting a position that could cost many more jobs and weaken Mississippi’s ability to grow its economy in future years.

JobKeeper Alliance strongly opposes the joint venture of the Sierra Club and Bigger Pie Forum to make Mississippi over-reliant on natural gas by opposing competing energy sources.

[1] Foote, Ashby (April 3, 2011) U.S. has gas bonanza http://goo.gl/jIruU
[2] International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 8. St. James Press, 1994
[3] Mississippi Opportunity Fund Annual Report (February 28, 1997) http://goo.gl/cSW9oW
[4] Jeter, Lynne W. (March 28, 2005) For many, investing in Mississippi makes sense http://goo.gl/kyk8x
[5] Henry Hub Gulf Coast Natural Gas Spot Price, U.S. Energy Information Administration http://goo.gl/iLGni
[6] Henry Hub Gulf Coast Natural Gas Spot Price, U.S. Energy Information Administration http://goo.gl/iLGni

Alabama Surface Mining Commission Holds Hearing

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — A public hearing of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission (ASMC), brought on by the Black Warrior Riverkeeper petition, “Lands Unsuitable for Coal Mining,” was held today in Jasper with at least 200 speakers and spectators are in attendance.

Riverkeeper’s petition, if approved, would put an end to surface coal mining on more than 58,000 acres of land adjacent to the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River, where the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) — which also opposes mining projects in that area — draws much of the drinking water for the city.

Riverkeeper and other environmental groups say that two proposed coal strip mines along the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior — the Shepherd Bend mine and Reed Mine No. 5, both near Cordova — will seriously harm the quality of the drinking water for about 200,000 Birmingham residents.

But backers of the proposed mines say that they will bring badly needed jobs to Walker County and create tax revenue without unduly harming the environment.

Patrick Cagle speaking at the ASMC hearing

Among those speaking against the petition was Patrick Cagle, executive director of the advocacy group Jobkeeper Alliance. “We support responsible coal mining because it provides good paying, middle-class jobs.”

Riverkeeper’s “allegations lack substance,” according to Cagle. “There is no data to suggest that coal mining has any effect on drinking water,” he said.

However, perhaps the most important view point is that of Dr. Randall Johnson, ASMC director, who several times during the hearing stressed that he had seen no evidence that the water treated by the BWWB at the Mulberry intake had been negatively impacted by coal mining.

“No one has come to me, not one soul, with any data that shows that the water in that watershed had been damaged to the point that they cannot treat it to meet (EPA) drinking water standards,” Johnson said during an exchange with engineer and petition supporter Todd Hyche.

Johnson said that the ASMC has looked at lots of data — and not just that submitted by mining companies and environmentalists.

He said that his agency “has got to have a reasonable expectation that mining will impair the source water for the (BWWB)” in order to accept Riverkeeper’s petition.

Read the full Birmingham News story

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