When it comes to doling out ratepayer money for charitable causes, the Long Island Power Authority is no Scrooge – though some environmental, business and politically connected groups have fared better than others.
The authority over the past 3 1/2 years has given away more than $375,000 in straight donations, and spent another $1-million-plus attending and sponsoring events held by various business, academic and charitable groups, according to an analysis of LIPA records. Newsday received the information through a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this year.
LIPA, in a written statement on Friday, said there was no relationship between the amount of its donations and the support it receives for its energy projects or related efforts.
“LIPA considers each request on its own merits,” the utility said.
But wide fluctuations in LIPA’s charitable giving raise questions about why some receive significantly more than others.
Beholden to the public?
Since 2003, for example, LIPA has given $18,000 to the Education & Assistance Corp., a Roslyn-based charity for which LIPA chairman Richard Kessel serves as a member of the board of directors, and where Robert McBride, a transportation consultant at former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato’s Park Strategies, is listed as a lifetime board member. Park Strategies is a consultant to FPL Energy, a company that won the contract to build a $356-million-plus wind farm off Jones Beach.
In 2005 alone, LIPA gave $5,000 to the EAC, far more the amount given to most other recipients. By comparison, LIPA gave $500 to Island Harvest, the regional food bank, that year.
The second-largest recipient of a LIPA donation in 2005 under the category of Community & Civic Importance was Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, a community civic group whose $5,000 gift was more than five times the average donation of other civic groups. The group is a member of Wind Works Long Island, which “is working to bring what could be the nation’s first offshore wind park to Long Island, New York,” according to the Wind Works Web site. By mid-2006, it had received $2,500 from LIPA.
LIPA this year also granted Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington $1 million for enhancements to the town dock and Sunset Park. LIPA, noting that the residents group approached it with a request for the money, said it investigated the project and “determined that the site may well be suited to a demonstration project for renewable energy, energy efficiency and dark sky lighting systems. ” It said that if the project goes forward, “It will paid with funds from [LIPA’s] Clean Energy Initiative budget. ”
LIPA’s predecessor, the Long Island Lighting Co., also made charitable donations, recalled Matthew Cordaro, a former LILCO executive. LILCO’s total annual budget for charitable giving and event sponsorships was between $100,000 and $200,000 in the mid-1980s, he said.
Cordaro said that while that’s what the company did during normal times, donations were curtailed when electric rates spiraled. He also noted that LILCO was a private company beholden to shareholders and questioned LIPA’s largesse. “It’s especially unusual when their rates are so high, and you’re a nonprofit entity,” he said.
The Long Island Pine Barrens Society has been among the top recipients of LIPA’s charitable largess, receiving a $10,000 gift in 2003 that was double the next highest amount given to any other organization that year, and well above the typical under-$500 gift. LIPA in 2004 under the category of sponsorship/special events also contributed another $15,000 to the society, followed this January by a “clean energy” sponsorship/special event grant of another $15,000.
In October 2005, the Pine Barrens Society awarded LIPA and Kessel its top honor, the “Outstanding Contribution to Long Island’s Environment,” for its alternative energy and energy conservation efforts. Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper, noting that Kessel also chaired the group’s 2006 gala committee, emphasized there’s little LIPA’s donations can do to influence the society.
“It becomes more corporate generosity than an effort to pay somebody off,” Amper said.
The Citizens Environmental Research Institute, in 2003, received the second largest donation from LIPA, of $5,000. The institute is a sister of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, whose executive director Adrienne Esposito has been among the more vocal proponents of LIPA’s wind-farm proposal.
Esposito said the $5,000 in 2003 was used in its entirety to sponsor a program called Girls Ready for Environmental Education Now, which introduced underprivileged girls to environmental issues at locations around Long Island. The Citizens Environmental Research Center received another $2,500 in 2004. Citizens Campaign, which is a member of the executive committee of Wind Works Long Island, also received $5,000 for sponsorship/special event funding in 2006, for its annual gala, Esposito said. A LIPA donation of $14,000 to Citizens in 2005 was passed in its entirety to an unaffiliated group running a program called Renewing Community Earth, Esposito said.
Another big environmental recipient was the Neighborhood Network and its Neighborhood Network Research Center Inc. Neighborhood Network in 2005 received $15,000, LIPA’s largest gift last year. The organization, which also makes frequent appearances with LIPA concerning the wind farm and is a member of Wind Works Long Island, receives $40,000 a year in a contract with KeySpan as part of the utility’s Clean Energy Leadership Task Force.
The $40,000 contract “doesn’t deal with wind energy,” said the group’s executive director, Neal Lewis, earlier this year. The Neighborhood Network, which also has appeared with LIPA in support of the Caithness power plant, also received $11,000 from two events/sponsorships in 2004, another $1,000 in 2005, and $3,000 this year.
United Way of Long Island, where LIPA deputy chairman Patrick Foye previously served as chief executive, has received nearly $40,000 in donations since 2003. LIPA, like numerous regional entities, has a history of giving to the group that predates Foye’s position, which he gave up in the fall.
Among the biggest recipients of the special event/sponsorship funding was the Long Island Association, a business advocacy group on which Kessel is a board member. In 2003, the LIA received $90,725 from LIPA. LIPA pumped another $43,725 into the LIA in 2004, $41,990 in 2005 and $31,280 in 2006 – some $207,720 in all. The LIA has been a vocal advocate of LIPA energy initiatives including the Neptune power cable, the Caithness plant in Yaphank, and the wind farm.
Harry Davitian, chairman of the LIA’s energy and environment committee, has voiced that support at hearings. Davitian, president of Entek Power Services, also owns Suffolk Power Holdings, which has an ownership stake in the Caithness Long Island plant in Yaphank, he confirmed.
When LIPA sheds little light
Newsday obtained information about LIPA’s charitable contributions and sponsorships, as well as lobbying expenses, from the New York State comptroller’s office and through Freedom of Information Act inquiries. LIPA, a public authority, would only respond to questions in writing, and it declined to make chairman Richard Kessel available for comment.
Top LIPA sponsorships
Amounts spent to attend and sponsor events held by various business, academic and charitable groups from 2003-06, according to LIPA records. More than $1 million was spent on a total of 152 events.
Long Island Association (LIA) $207,720
Natural Heritage Trust $65,000
Hauppauge Industrial Assoc. (HIA) $31,775
LI Convention and Visitors Bureau $30,600
LI Pine Barrens Society $30,000
LI Coalition for Fair Broadcasting, Inc. $29,750
Montauk Point Lighthouse Museum $26,000
Town of Hempstead $25,750
Town of Huntington $25,200
Association for a Better Long Island $25,000
Cradle of Aviation Museum $23,900
New York Institute of Technology $23,000
LI Philharmonic $22,750
East LI Coastal Cons. Alliance $21,000
Citizens Campaign for the Environment $19,000
Friends of Nass. Cty.-Firefighters Museum $16,500
Hofstra University $16,250
American Airpower Museum $15,000
LI Children’s Museum $15,000
Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce $15,000
Neighborhood Network $15,000
LI Development Corp. $14,500
Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce $13,765
Atlantis Marine World $13,500
Empire State Games for Physically Challenged $12,500
Vision Long Island $12,500
Visiting Nurse Association of LI $11,500
Fair Media Council $11,225
LI Jewish World $10,500
Commerce Bank-Econ. Development $10,000
Commerce Plaza, Inc. $10,000
Friends of Nassau County Recreation $10,000
Health and Welfare Council of LI $10,000
Heckscher Museum Of Art $10,000
North Hempstead Soccer Advisory Committee $10,000
Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary & Audubon Society $10,000
Leading recipients of charitable donations made by LIPA, out of 258 organizations from 2003-06, according to the company.
United Way of Long Island $38,500
Education & Assistance Corporation $18,000
Hofstra University $15,000
Neighborhood Network $15,000
Long Island Pine Barrens Society $10,000
Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington $9,200
The Nature Conservancy $8,000
Citizens Environmental Research Institute $7,500
American Heart Association $7,260
Long Island Youth Guidance $5,000
Suffolk Community College Foundation $5,000
Temple Beth-El of Bellmore $5,000
Ward Melville Heritage Org. $5,000
New York Horse Rescue Corporation $4,700
American Red Cross $4,105
Foundation for Long Island State Parks $4,000
National Center for Disability Services $3,500
Theodore Roosevelt Council, BSA $3,350
Girl Scouts of Nassau County $3,250
Friends of the Arts $3,000
Landmark on Main Street, Inc. $3,000
Port Washington Library Foundation $3,000
SJK Foundation, Inc. $3,000
USDAN Center for the Creative & Performing Arts $3,000
By Mark Harrington
Newsday Staff Writer
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