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Hannah: $40 million insult

It would be entirely reasonable to suggest Bill and Hillary Clinton read the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s playbook about how to collect and spend money free of a whole heck of a lot of oversight.

That may be a bit of a stretch and somewhat unfair to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, better known as BRAF, but since the Clintons have been in the news of late for their foundation’s shenanigans it seemed only fair to take a peak at what BRAF has been up to.  That’s especially relevant since BRAF is asking Louisiana taxpayers for $40 million to dredge six lakes in the capital city including one we all know as LSU Lakes.  You’ve probably noticed it if you’ve ever driven through the campus.  It’s very pretty.  I walked along that lake from time to time when I was a student at LSU in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

According to its web site, BRAF “connects philanthropists with nonprofits to make sure the needs of our communities are met. Our donors, for instance, fund music programs for children, provide money to feed the hungry and underwrite education reform. Since inception, our donors and the Foundation made thousands of grants worth more than $350 million. We help donors create a lasting legacy and fulfill their philanthropic goals….The Foundation begins and manages civic leadership projects. Our Plan Baton Rouge initiative underpinned the rebirth of downtown Baton Rouge and is returning life to neighborhoods between LSU and the city center. The Foundation’s latest civic initiatives include improving autism services, master planning for the lakes at the heart of Baton Rouge and building The Water Campus with The Water Institute of the Gulf as its centerpiece.”

Obviously BRAF has had some success over the years.

That’s the least one can discern from BRAF’s 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, which represents a “special” filing for organizations exempt from income tax.  The most recent filing available via the Internet is for 2013.

The 2013 report tells us BRAF is sitting on some $261 million in net assets.  It ginned up more than $22 million in revenue in 2013, more than $10 million of which was courtesy of investment income.

And BRAF has a lot of investments including more than $43 million in the Caribbean alone.   

The compensation for the two individuals who run the show at BRAF — CEO John Davies and  John Spain, BRAF’s executive vice president — was $493,457 in “reportable compensation” in 2013 to Davies.  He collected another $150,000 in 2013 from “related” organizations as well as $84,698 from “the organization and related organizations.” Spain pulled down $352,008 in “reportable compensation” in 2013 as well as another $64,484 from “the organization and related organizations.”

In all fairness to Davies, Spain and the other dedicated employees at BRAF, BRAF has it hands in a plethora of endeavors including the Future of the Gulf Fund as well as the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation.

The Future of the Gulf Fund cropped up after BRAF bagged $100 million from BP following the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.  BRAF distributed some $25 million to rig workers and other laborers who suffered consequences as a result of the Deepwater explosion.  So with $75 million left over, BRAF gave birth to the Future of the Gulf Fund, which doled out some $18 million in grants to some worthwhile causes.

It’s not clear what happened to the $57 million that was left over from BP trying to curry favor with the “in-the-know” crowd in Baton Rouge.  I’m sure whatever happened to the $57 million was all above board.

But if BRAF is still sitting on $57 million courtesy of BP, then BRAF can certainly write a check to dig out the lakes in Baton Rouge.

Yet, it could be considered uncouth in some corners to question BRAF’s integrit but someone of a reasonable demeanor might question the reasonableness of asking the state Legislature to appropriate $40 million to dig out some mud-filled ponds while lawmakers are trying to balance a budget without closing LSU.

Sam Hanna is a state political writer.

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