Three years ago, the Progressive Policy Institute realized that a senior manager had quietly used unauthorized checks, credit-card charges and cash withdrawals to drain about $100,000 from the Democratic think tank’s accounts, pushing the nonprofit group to the edge of insolvency, interviews and documents show.
Officials at the institute didn’t call police and didn’t alert donors, said Lindsay Mark Lewis, now executive director of the Washington-based organization. Instead, they took what charity governance specialists call a distressingly common approach for a nonprofit group: They agreed to forgo legal action in exchange for restitution.
“We had an agreement that as long as the payments were made, that we would not pursue anything else,” Lewis said.
The institute declined to publicly identify the manager. Elizabeth Kennedy, who was executive director in 2010, left about the time of the discovery, and the institute’s financial records state that she has since “repaid” tens of thousands of dollars to the institute. She declined to discuss the institute’s loss and, asked whether she had embezzled the money, said, “No comment.”
Since leaving the institute, Kennedy has gone on to work for nonprofit and political groups in Florida, serving as finance director at one, documents and interviews show.
The Progressive Policy Institute, founded in 1989 and incorporated as the Third Way Foundation, describes itself as “an independent, innovative and high-impact D.C.-based think tank” and as “the original ‘idea mill’ for President Bill Clinton’s New Democrats.” It promotes a centrist approach and focuses on energy policy, competitiveness and medical innovation.One can search for other think tanks that have reported a "significant diversion" of assets here. PPI's homepage can be found here.
PPI was recently ranked by the University of Pennsylvania annual think tank rankings as the 7th best think tank in the world in terms of think tanks with a political party affiliation.