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U.S. Obscures Foreign Aid To Ukraine, But Here's Where Some Goes

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WASHINGTON -- As the United States readies $1 billion in loan guarantees to the new government in Ukraine, along with even more aid for reforming elections and cleaning up corruption, one thing is clear: The public is unlikely to know where that money is going for some time, if ever.

Since 1992, the U.S. has sent $3 billion to $5 billion in aid to Ukraine, with only cursory public disclosure. The U.S. State Department operates an online database, ForeignAssistance.gov, but names of foreign recipients are often left out, and entire sections are blank. Furthermore, the disclosure often comes long after the money has been distributed.

"It is incredibly hard to find this kind of information," Nicole Valentinuzzi, communications manager for Publish What You Fund, an international organization promoting transparency for foreign aid.

The main channels of U.S. aid are the State Department; the U.S. Agency for International Department; the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit entity funded through direct appropriations from Congress; and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Other agencies may provide further funding.

The spending by U.S. government agencies often flows through for-profit companies, including PACT, Democracy International, and Chemonics International. The path of this money creates another layer obscuring the final source of U.S. foreign aid, as the companies distribute money to non-governmental organizations in Ukraine, or to other countries.

"Where's the U.S. money going?" asked Publish What You Fund U.S. representative Sally Paxton. "If it goes to Chemonics, then who does it go to? And how do you hold the NGOs, whether they're in the Ukraine or in the U.S., accountable if none of this chain of spending is ever reported?"

USAID referred Ukraine aid questions to the State Department, which didn't respond. National Endowment for Democracy did not return a call.

While it is near impossible to track U.S. foreign aid as it goes out the door, some recent information is available, if piecemeal.

A Huffington Post review of disclosures covering U.S. payments to Ukrainian government and NGOs found that large portions of aid have funded programs against the proliferation of nuclear materials, small arms, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking and money laundering. U.S. aid also has funded information about HIV/AIDS and family planning, and has helped clean and contain the nuclear disaster site at Chernobyl.

USAID contributed $200 million to the final decommissioning of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The Department of Energy spent more than $50 million in 2010 in support of closing and containing the nuclear disaster site, according to ForeignAssistance.gov.

U.S. foreign aid also has funded groups promoting civic engagement, the rule of law, investigative journalism and oversight of elections. The Obama administration has proposed that some future aid to the new Ukrainian government will fall under this category.

"The United States will provide technical assistance to train election observers, help bring electoral processes in line with international standards, and promote robust participation by civil society organizations and a free and independent media," saysa White House white sheet on Ukrainian aid released on Tuesday.

The USAID Country Development Strategy 2012-2016 for Ukraine explains that the agency provides extensive funding to support the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) and "is also the largest donor in providing support to political parties and election observation." USAID coordinates its efforts with private foundations and aid agencies in Canada, the U.K., the European Union and Germany, the document says.

A portion of prior "democracy program" funding has gone through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening, a USAID program with other National Endowment for Democracy-affiliated groups: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. In 2010, the reported disbursement for CEPPS in Ukraine was nearly $5 million.

The program's efforts are described on the USAID website as providing "training for political party activists and locally elected officials to improve communication with civic groups and citizens, and the development of NGO-led advocacy campaigns on electoral and political process issues."

A significant portion of democracy program funding has come from the National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliated groups. The government-funded nonprofit discloses grant recipients on its website. (Publish What You Fund warned that this list may be incomplete and may not meet international foreign aid reporting standards the group promotes.)

From 2007 through 2012, the National Endowment for Democracy spent $16.8 million to stimulate civic activity and fund election watchdogs and non-state run reporting outlets in Ukraine. (NED will post 2013 grant recipients within the next week.) These funds have gone to organizations that played a role in the 2004 Orange Revolution and have since continued to monitor elections, investigate government corruption and educate youth about democratic government.

Ukrainian recipient organizations of U.S. democracy aid included election monitors Civic Network OPORA, an offshoot of the pro-Orange Revolution Pora Party (at least $411,370), and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, which has branches across the country to monitor local elections, conduct polls and provide an organizing space for young Ukrainians ($788,072). The youth chapter of the nationalist People's Movement of Ukraine party, All-Ukrainian Youth Civic Organization or "Young Rukh," received nearly $200,000 to train youth activists and monitor corruption at Ukrainian universities. Other funding has gone to the Democratic Initiatives Foundation for election exit polling and surveys ($363,404).

In addition, the National Endowment for Democracy has spent more than $1.1 million to support independent journalism and media watchdogs in Ukraine. These include the Independent Association of Broadcasters, the Independent Center of Political Researchers and Journalists, the Institute for Mass Information, the Donetsk Press Club and Telekritika, among others.

USAID has advocated and funded Ukraine transparency programs and laws, including the nation's 2011 freedom of information law and the creation of the Ukrainian Electronic Disclosure System, a public database of financial reports modeled on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's EDGAR system.

In 2011, the U.S. signed an agreement to abide by the foreign aid disclosure standards set forth by the International Aid Transparency Initiative. The agreement promises that the U.S. will abide by full disclosure standards by the end of 2015.

"The U.S. is making small movements," Publish What You Fund's Valentinuzzi said. "We're happy about that, but there is still no one stop shop [for finding foreign aid information]."

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