Two Republican lawmakers are asking the Legislature’s watchdog agency to analyze how the state’s roughly $50 million a year in tobacco settlement money is being spent.

“When you have that much money floating around it ought to be accounted for,” said Rep. Jeff Timberlake of Turner, one of the lawmakers asking the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to audit the Fund for a Healthy Maine. The fund was set up in 1999 to receive and distribute the state’s annual tobacco settlement money.

Maine uses the funds for eight specific health-related purposes. In addition to anti-smoking programs, the funds also pay for prenatal home visits, school breakfast programs, school health care centers, prescription drugs for the elderly and disabled, and dental services for low-income residents.

Timberlake said he has seen general descriptions of how the money is spent, but wants detailed information, such as the percentage of funds used for administrative costs. “One hundred percent of it may be spent correctly,”Timberlake said, adding that usually the Department of Health and Human Services would audit the fund. “But they’re not going to do an in-depth review. They’re not digging into the fine details.”

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee plans its own review of the fund this month. Besides tobacco settlement funds, some Maine racino revenue is earmarked for the fund.

In 2009, OPEGA produced a 60-page report on the cost-effectiveness of the Fund for A Healthy Maine, at the request of the Committee on Health and Human Services. That report found “reasonably adequate” methods to ensure cost effectiveness, but suggested periodic reassessment is needed.

Timberlake said he was prompted to make the OPEGA request, with Sen. Garrett Mason adding his support later, because he had tried unsuccessfully to use some of the money.

“When I served on the budget committee, I wanted to use a portion in the supplemental budget to do some stuff with nursing homes and some other things, and it was like pulling teeth because this money is heavily guarded and I couldn’t figure out why,” he said.

He also noted that while some funds are used in schools, some is used at Planned Parenthood and homeless shelters.

Planned Parenthood has been under attack in recent months since anti-abortion activists began releasing secretly recorded video of the handling of fetal tissue from abortions. Republicans and conservatives say those videos show Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue for profit and violating other federal rules. Planned Parenthood and its Democratic defenders say there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

Timberlake’s request spells out nine specific questions for an OPEGA audit, and Planned Parenthood is the only agency he names for specific information: “How much money is allocated for Planned Parenthood? Does the Fund for Healthy Maine know where/how Planned Parenthood spends those funds?”Timberlake’s full OPEGA request and the 2009 OPEGA report are available at pressherald.com.

Sen. Roger Katz, co-chair of the Government Oversight Committee, said the committee would consider the request.

“We’ll decide if this is something we think is an appropriate task for OPEGA,” he said.