Americans have fair reason to be wary of the National Endowment for Democracy. After all, this is a private NGO, dedicated to the promotion of democracy abroad, that receives nearly all its funding from Congress yet wants to be seen as independent of the federal government.

Recent disclosures about endowment grantees becoming entangled with shady characters in Haiti who were involved in the 2004 coup against then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide suggest it is all too easy for such non-governmental foundations to act at cross purposes with US foreign policy — or in conflict with American ideals. As reported recently in The New York Times, a right-wing adventurer in the Endowment schemed with drug dealers and death-squad thugs to topple Aristide. The Endowment has also been criticised in allegedly collaborating with groups that staged a short-lived coup in 2002 against President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

But it has earned a reputation for being more effective and accountable than government departments. There is nothing wrong with the mission of the Endowment. To preserve its role in helping build the civil society foundations of democracy, it must root out any recipient of funds that acts to thwart the democratic movements and values the Endowment was meant to cultivate.