August 21, 2013 9:57:17 AM
JACKSON -- A free-market advocacy group that opposes Mississippi Power's $4.7 billion coal-fired power plant under construction in Kemper County now finds itself on the defensive, accused of using public funds in the fight against the plant.
JobKeeper Alliance, a union-linked group based in Montgomery, Ala., claims the nonprofit Bigger Pie Forum is using public money held by the private Institute for Technology Development to oppose the plant.
JobKeeper Alliance wants Mississippi state Auditor Stacey Pickering to investigate whether public money is being funneled through ITD into Bigger Pie's opposition to Kemper in violation of any laws.
ITD was created to promote and commercialize research from Mississippi universities and has received millions of dollars in state and federal money. Bigger Pie Forum is a subsidiary of ITD. On its website, the forum says it focuses on ideas that "encourage economic freedom, discourage cronyism, and help Mississippi's economy grow."
Bigger Pie CEO J. Kelley Williams said the group has spent up to $400,000 since 2012, but not all on opposition to Kemper. Williams said funding came from technology licensing proceeds and was spent legally.
JobKeeper Executive Director Patrick Cagle said Pickering should investigate the financial relationship between ITD and Bigger Pie.
In an opinion piece published Aug. 15 in The Clarion-Ledger newspaper, Cagle asked, "Why are ITD's unused funds not being returned to the state to repay the taxpayer money invested in the organization?"
Cagle also charged that Bigger Pie has been taking public money at the same time it is promoting "a less government, free-market philosophy explicitly opposed to taxpayer-funded subsidies for private business."
Williams countered that Cagle's claims are "blatantly false" and "reckless."