- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — The charity that runs the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is being asked by Congress to explain some of its expenses, including high salaries for its executives and $45,000 a year for a dog that chases away geese.

The Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation was sent a letter Friday from the Senate Finance Committee, which has been probing the nonprofit’s spending since earlier this year. The letter asked the foundation to answer questions about its finances and management, the New York Times reported yesterday.

“The Statue of Liberty Foundation board was too often AWOL or uninformed in managing the foundation and ensuring that charitable donations were being used appropriately,” said committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, according to the newspaper.

Mr. Grassley said he was concerned “the foundation’s board may not have been in compliance with tax laws, or even its own bylaws, when it approved high salaries for foundation executives.” The charity’s president was paid more than $300,000 last year.

The congressional investigation began after news organizations reported that the statue’s reopening was delayed because the foundation initiated a new fund-raising campaign instead of using millions of dollars already in its endowment to pay for upgrades.

The charity denied the reports, saying the pace of the reopening was not affected by the additional fund raising but had been delayed by slow research into the upgrades and a lengthy approval process for the plans.

Mr. Grassley told the Times that investigators found a set of talking points for the campaign that included the statement: “The sooner we can raise the money through this campaign, the sooner the work can be completed” as a response to questions about when the monument would reopen.

“The foundation appears to have presented a fund-raising project as necessary to help reopen the statue,” the senator said. “Yet at the same time the foundation suggests that the fund raising did not affect the opening of the statue. The foundation needs to better explain this discrepancy. Donors have a right to answers.”

On Thursday, an independent report commissioned by the foundation found that the new fund-raising effort did not delay the statue’s reopening and said the press reports had been incorrect.

The report, by a committee chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell, found no wrongdoing by the foundation but said it needs to “reassess its mission, role, future and executive compensation structure and find ways to improve its corporate governance.”

The Statue of Liberty, closed to the public since the September 11 terrorist attacks because of security concerns, is set to reopen Aug. 3. Access to its crown will be restricted.

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