Anti-abortion group under investigation by Pa. auditor general sues agency [updated]

     Pa. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been sued by a group he is investigating.(Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

    Pa. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been sued by a group he is investigating.(Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

    Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is, for the first time in his tenure, on the receiving end of a lawsuit from an organization he was investigating.

    Real Alternatives — an anti-abortion nonprofit that gets money from the state — is suing because it said DePasquale is overstepping his legal authority.

    The suit, filed in Commonwealth Court, argues that DePasquale is auditing money that is not under his jurisdiction.

    “It’s a shame that we had to go to court to get the auditor general to obey the law,” said Matthew Haverstick, the lawyer who’s representing Real Alternatives. “But since he’s unwilling to do it on his own, we really had no choice.”

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    DePasquale said such lawsuits are extremely uncommon, and this one came as a complete surprise. Up until Wednesday, the auditor general’s office had been under the impression Real Alternatives would cooperate with the audit.

    DePasquale said, nevertheless, he is prepared to fight the suit for as long as necessary — even up to the Supreme Court.

    The group, which has been operating in Pennsylvania for more than 20 years, gets about $7 million a year in state funding to, as it says, provide “women in unexpected pregnancies with compassionate, caring and free services throughout the commonwealth.”

    The group allocates resources to various subcontractors, which help carry out its mission. It charges a 3-percent fee to those subcontractors, which it said goes toward “promoting the development and expansion of Real Alternatives initiatives.”

    DePasquale’s audit began in September when the Department of Human Services — which oversees Real Alternatives — became concerned that it couldn’t track where the proceeds from the fee were going.

    DePasquale said the fees accumulated over five years have amounted to almost a million dollars the state can’t trace.

    “What is it in that 3 percent fee that they so want to hide from the people of Pennsylvania?” he said. “Are they funneling campaign contributions? I mean, what are they doing with that money?”

    He said the lawsuit has made him even more suspicious, and suggested that it’s possible the group is spending Pennsylvania taxpayer money on out-of-state costs.

    “It is my view that the Legislature and the governor should absolutely not give Real Alternatives another dime unless the people of Pennsylvania know what they’re doing with this 3 percent fee,” he said.

    Real Alternatives maintains the fee is levied only on private funds, which it gets from “other corporate contracts.” 


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