NAACP audit reportedly shows over $111,000 in disputed expenses by ex-chief

July 13, 1995|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NAACP board received an audit yesterday that shows nearly $112,000 in disputed expenses by former Chairman William F. Gibson, according to sources familiar with the report.

But Dr. Gibson, who was voted out as chairman in February, is expected to question the audit's findings, which covered 1989-1994. He did not cooperate fully with auditors, contending that their extensive questions about his charges to an NAACP credit card were an unreasonable burden.

The report acknowledged that the questioned expenses were listed in large part due to Dr. Gibson's lack of response, the sources said.

The audit also showed that former Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. charged more than $32,000 in personal expenses -- including clothing, toys and airplane flights for relatives -- to an NAACP credit card.

The audit found that Dr. Gibson and Dr. Chavis rented limousines and luxury hotel suites as the civil rights group plunged deeper into debt over the past two years.

Among other Gibson expenses questioned were hotel stays and airfares for travel in his home state of South Carolina, including some for other people, the sources said.

The report showed that Dr. Chavis' predecessor, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, charged about $5,000 in trips that may have been personal, but that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People owed him considerably more than that for other expenses.

The board debated last night how much of the findings should be made public. Dr. Gibson, who is still a board member, did not take an active role in the discussion during the closed-door meeting at the NAACP's 86th annual convention, according to board members.

Dr. Chavis, fired in August, did not attend the convention. He could not be reached for comment. He reached a settlement with the NAACP in October that calls for him to pay back his personal expenses.

Members of the 64-person national board were anxious to put the episode behind them as the Baltimore-based NAACP, which is $3.8 million in debt, tries to regain public confidence and rebuild its civil rights capabilities.

"I think it will help us settle the past and move forward to the future," said C. DeLores Tucker, head of the National Political Congress of Black Women and an NAACP activist who was among Dr. Gibson's harshest critics. "We just want the audit to tell what took place. I'm sure it will."

Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia delegates to the group's 86th annual convention voted yesterday to ask their 11 board members to support the release of the audit.

Francisco L. Borges, the NAACP board's treasurer, played down the report's findings. While refusing to discuss them in any detail, he said they were not scandalous.

Kelly M. Alexander Jr., a Gibson ally who was not re-elected to the board, said: "Some money was spent. Had we had controls in place, it probably would have been spent differently, but nobody did anything with culpable intent."

Controversy about the spending of Dr. Gibson and Dr. Chavis has dogged the NAACP, the nation's largest civil rights group, for nearly a year. The bad publicity has resulted in the loss of needed corporate and foundation support, compounding the group's financial problems.

Dr. Chavis was fired after secretly committing up to $332,400 in NAACP funds to settle a threatened sexual harassment claim. Then a series of syndicated columns last fall by Carl T. Rowan questioning Dr. Gibson's expenses led to Myrlie Evers-Williams' one-vote-margin defeat of the chairman in a board election.

Dr. Gibson has kept largely out of sight at the convention. The former chairman's defenders contend that gaps in NAACP financial records would make it difficult to assess blame.

The board ordered the audit in October as Dr. Gibson fought to keep the volunteer position he had held since 1985. But delays in the hiring of the auditor kept the report from being ready by February, when Dr. Gibson was up for re-election.

Dr. Gibson met at least once with the auditors in May and then stopped cooperating.

Dr. Tucker said the audit would "show what is in the records, with or without his answers. We waited long enough for his answers."

The expenses of all NAACP officers from 1989 to 1994 were audited.

Dr. Hooks, who retired in 1993 after 16 years as NAACP executive director, said he spent the bulk of two months -- from March through May -- answering auditors' questions.

"I did it, and I'm proud I did it," he said yesterday. "I made trips to Baltimore at my own expense and sat down with auditors to go over reams and reams of paper. They were heavy but pretty fair."

Dr. Hooks said he didn't expect to be criticized in the report. "I think it is absolutely necessary we get this behind us. Period," he said.

The board hired a firm yesterday to assist in its search for a new executive director. First in a list of qualifications for the job was: "Unquestioned honesty and integrity."

Meanwhile, the routine work of the convention, which ends today, went on yesterday. The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson brought delegates to their feet by suggesting that President Clinton fight the Republican majority in Congress by "reinvesting in America" with job-creating public works programs.

Mr. Jackson, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, is threatening to challenge Mr. Clinton in the Democratic primaries or as an independent presidential candidate next year.

"If I were to run, we know it would create more excitement among many voters who have dropped out," he said. He said Republicans won in November's congressional elections "by the margin of unenthusiastic voters. It's not that their water was so high; our walls were so low."

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to address the convention today.

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