Analysis: Nonprofits are next target for Hosemann

By Jack Elliott Jr./The Associated Press

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says he has pleased and displeased many inside and outside state government in pursuit of election law changes, 16th Section land reforms, securities law amendments and burial contracts regulation.

Maybe that should be enough for a first term.

The Republican has already found another target — non-profits. He says there are thousands registered in Mississippi and thousands more go on the rolls every year.

Hosemann, who has been an attorney for nearly three decades, says no one knows if all the groups are still nonprofit, but he intends to find out.

Hosemann said there are 38,000 nonprofits registered with his office, with the oldest listing dating back to the 1800s.

“I was astounded how far back the records go … especially since nonprofit laws didn’t happen until the 1990s,” said Mark McCrary, executive director of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, which lists about 500 members on its Web site.

Hosemann said the secretary of state’s office in the next few weeks will mail letters to the nonprofits to ask questions about their fundraising and their activities.

“Mississippians are the most charitable people in the country. We need to know these groups are doing right by them,” Hosemann said.

Laine Lawson Craft of Canton, organizer of Brown Bag Bible Buddies, a testimonial grass-roots ministry, believes Hosemann is on the right track.

“They have helped the people who are trying to help people,” Craft said of Hosemann’s office. “And I think they have been very good at weeding out people that have not been doing it for the right reasons.”

Craft said the secretary of state’s staff has helped Brown Bag Bible Buddies as it has grown from a once-a-week gathering for women to share what God is doing in their lives to a group with a following that has spread to many states by its magazine, monthly seminars and Web-based radio show.

Craft said anyone donating to a ministry or any other nonprofit should know their donations are going to the purpose for which the organizations was created.

“I see a lot of people soliciting for things, and a lot of people may wonder it that money is getting where it should,” Craft said.

McCrary said the secretary of state is making the effort to determine who is doing the charitable work in Mississippi.

“If somebody’s no longer operating for the public good, I think we need to probably take them off the books or make sure they comply with both the state and federal laws,” McCrary said.

In 2009, Hosemann helped draft the new Nonprofit/Charities legislation, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

The law eased the regulatory burdens on charities but also strengthened the ability of the secretary of state office to enforce laws against dishonest charities.

Among the changes were at higher annual revenue threshold for charity registration from $4,000 per year to $25,000 per year. The secretary of state also got authority to subpoena witnesses and documents during investigations and to bring actions in chancery court to stop illegal activities, collect fines and remove charitable corporate status.

Hosemann said the changes protected the good names of strong charitable organizations and gave Mississippi more confidence in their charitable giving.

McCrary said his organization is helping nonprofits understand what’s in the new law.

“We do a lot of training, so nonprofits have a lot of opportunity to know what changes have made by the secretary of state and making sure they know what the need to be compliant with the new law,” McCrary said.