Senate Report Highlights Absence of Oversight in NGO Funding
Initial Analysis of “Review of U.S. State Department Grants to OneVoice”
On July 12, 2016, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), released a report detailing the use of resources developed with State Department funding to advance the “V-15” political campaign during the last election cycle in Israel.
In 2013, the U.S. State Department provided One Voice Israel with a grant of $233,500 for a project to “Defray Costs for Program ‘Campaign to Support the Negotiations’ Between the Israel Government & Palestinian Authority- Building Up Public SUPPORT.” The State Department also approved a $115,776 grant to One Voice Palestine for to “Work to Inspire Civic Participation Through Grassroots ACTIVISM.” Both projects were funded from September 2013 to November 2014.
Soon after the end of the grant period, One Voice embarked on a political campaign under the “V-15” name to “collapse” the governing coalition in Israel, activity that State Department officials called a “red line” if done using U.S. government funds.
The subcommittee concluded that One Voice did not directly use U.S. funds for its election campaign or violate its agreement with the U.S. government. However, it sharply criticized the State Department for not properly evaluating One Voice before grant approval and monitoring the organization during the course of the project. The State Department “failed to adequately guard against the risk of OneVoice using government-funded resources for political purposes…[d]espite OneVoice’s previous political activity in the 2013 Israeli election.”
In addition to the examples provided in the Senate report, NGO Monitor research reveals other blatant instances of overt political activity during the grant period. For instance, in January 2014, OneVoice targeted then Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid with a public campaign, calling on him to end “financial transfers to the settlements and sending the money instead to deprived communities inside Israel.” The political activity included “grassroots outreach  paired with an aggressive social media campaign,” as well as demonstrations along roadways and in front of Minister Lapid’s residence.
These public lobbying efforts and the subsequent election campaign highlight deficiencies in the processes of vetting and due diligence in State Department grantmaking. The findings of the subcommittee, and similar critiques from the Government Accountability Office cited in the report, echo concerns raised repeatedly by NGO Monitor over the years — in detailed research publications, Congressional briefings (most recently in June 2016), and correspondence with officials in funding agencies.
As recommended by NGO Monitor in previous publications and a forthcoming report on U.S. funding, U.S. government funding agencies should be required to assess NGO applicants on the basis of the totality of activities and agendas, and not only through narrowly defined projects or claims made by the NGOs themselves. Agencies should conduct independent evaluations of the NGO activity before, during, and after implementation of the grant. In this instance, such processes would have identified One Voice’s consistent involvement in public political campaigns, and prevented an inappropriate (and embarrassing) episode for the U.S. government.