05/11/04 — Answers, please: Ballance and the state deserve a timely report

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Answers, please: Ballance and the state deserve a timely report

U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance, whose 1st Congressional District embraces some of Wayne County, filed last week for a second term in Congress. Four days later, withdrew from the race.

Before going to Washington, Ballance served nine terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Nine terms certainly suggests his service was appreciated by his constituency.

It undoubtedly was appreciated by those who benefited from the John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation created by legislation that Rep. Ballance introduced in his first term in the General Assembly.

It was presented as a noble effort to provide substance-abuse treatment for young people in his area. As a legislator and chairman of the foundation board, Ballance was able to get more than $2 million in state grants.

That’s a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money.

But who did benefit? Except for the people actually involved in ostensibly running foundation programs, the beneficiaries either are hard to find or nonexistent.

For 10 years, the nonprofit foundation headed by Ballance, who is a lawyer, failed to file required federal tax returns and state financial reports showing how its grant money was spent.

And last year, a state audit reportedly found a multiplicity of conflicts of interest involving money going to family members and campaign contributors. The audit specifically identified $325,000 that was either misspent or questionably spent over a period of less than three years.

The General Assembly made no more contributions.

A federal grand jury has been investigating the foundation since last November.

Ballance refuses to discuss the matter, explaining that it would be inappropriate in light of the investigation.

But the people of North Carolina have a right to know whether the foundation suffered from willful wrongdoing or merely sloppy record-keeping.

Certainly, the people who would have been considering him for re-election would have needed that information.

How long does it take a federal grand jury to “hear the evidence” on a relatively small foundation? Now that Ballance has withdrawn from the race, the challenge of completing the investigation before election day eases.

Ballance perhaps could have won re-election regardless of the grand jury’s findings. But his withdrawal from the race doesn’t negate the importance of the grand jury’s completing the job. Frank Ballance shouldn’t have to complete his long political career under a cloud of suspicion.

Published in Editorials on May 11, 2004 11:57 AM