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Delahunt, champion of wind project, now may profit from it  

Credit:  By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, The Boston Globe, www.bostonglobe.com 21 January 2012 ~~

As a congressman, William D. Delahunt helped Hull win $1.7 million in federal earmarks for an offshore energy program.

Now, a year after the Quincy Democrat left office, his new consulting firm stands to receive $72,000 from the same pot of money under a no-bid contract Hull has offered for strategic guidance on the project.

Both sides insist there is no conflict of interest, but the South Shore town has asked the US Department of Energy for its seal of approval, anticipating complaints about a revolving-door relationship. Hull’s town manager said he has received verbal approval, but is awaiting written word.

Government watchdog groups have already rendered their verdict.

“It may not be illegal, it may not be unethical, but it’s certainly another reason why taxpayers hold Congress and its members in such low esteem right now,’’ said Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based group focused on earmarks. “It just adds to the perception that members are out to help themselves and not the taxpayers.’’

Mary Boyle, national spokeswoman for Common Cause, said: “This looks like a self-made golden parachute. He appears to be another in a long line of people who leave Congress to cash in. It obviously raises the question of whether he had this in mind when he left Congress and who was he advocating for: his constituents, or himself?’’

The Department of Energy said it would not be able to respond to a request for comment before Monday.

Delahunt also was not immediately reachable for comment, but a top aide said he is not trying to cash in on his congressional service, only to offer his expertise to Hull.

“I think what’s been spun out there is that somehow we’ve been hired by the town to lobby, and that’s not true,’’ said Mark Forest, who served as Delahunt’s congressional chief of staff and is executive director of The Delahunt Group.

“We’re not lobbying; we’re providing guidance and counsel to the town,’’ said Forest. “And over the years, we’ve had a lot of experience in this area. And our hope is that there is something productive that can be done in this area.’’

Federal databases show Delahunt as the lone sponsor of two earmarks during his final two years in office for an offshore wind project sought by the Hull Municipal Light Plant, a town-operated utility. Earmarks are legislative provisions channeling federal money to a specific project, often derided as “pork-barrel’’ spending.

After they were targeted by Tea Party Republicans in Congress, a two-year moratorium was placed on them last February.

Delahunt’s first earmark, in 2009, was for $951,500. The second, in 2010, was for $750,000. His link to the two earmarks came through disclosure reforms instituted after his fellow Democrats regained control of the House in 2006.

In each case, the funding was provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program. On both occasions, it was aimed at helping the light plant assess the prospects of generating power at an offshore wind farm akin to the Cape Wind project planned for Nantucket Sound.

Philip Lemnios, Hull’s town manager, said local leaders concluded last spring that building a wind-driven power plant would be too expensive, so they decided instead to consider building a wind-turbine test facility. Turbines convert kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy that is then converted into electricity.

Lemnios said he deemed Delahunt and his firm to be the most capable source of advice on that strategic shift. The Delahunt Group will be paid $15,000 a month for six months under the proposed contract, for a total of $90,000.

Eighty percent of the money will come from the Energy Department earmarks. The remaining 20 percent will come from the light plant.

“He didn’t lobby for it; he didn’t come in and inform the town that he was looking for this work,’’ Lemnios said. “I was aware that he had formed a group, and as I thought about how to move the project forward, I thought about him and brought him to the [light plant] board.’’

He said he did not put the contract out to public bid because municipal light departments are not subject to the state’s procurement laws.

Nonetheless, Lemnios said he decided to seek federal approval of Delahunt’s hiring to avoid criticism.

“People might say there’s an appearance of a conflict of interest there, which is precisely why we have asked the agency for its approval,’’ the town manager said.

Forest, the Delahunt aide, said the firm is experienced in such work after helping constituents with the Muskeget Channel Tidal Project off Martha’s Vineyard and the Northeast Offshore Renewable Energy Innovation Zone off Nantucket.

“It’s no surprise they would pick up the phone and call and say, ‘Hey, can you help us sort this out?’ ’’ said Forest.

Schatz, whose Citizens Against Government Waste has published a “Congressional Pig Book’’ since 1991 focused on earmarks, pointed out that members of Congress had to sign a certification declaring that neither they nor a member of their family will benefit from an earmark they request.

“This is the first I have heard about a member benefiting after the fact from an earmark,’’ he said. Referring to the certification, he added: “It does not say, ‘In the future they won’t see a benefit,’ but maybe it should be changed so it does.’’

Schatz also said the protestations about not lobbying by Forest and Lemnios are noteworthy, since House ethics rules prohibit members from lobbying federal officials for one year after leaving office.

In Delahunt’s case, that prohibition ended Jan. 3.

Hull announced its initial agreement with The Delahunt Group in late September, before that ban expired.

Delahunt is already lobbying on other matters at the state level, announcing last March that he would represent the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on state and federal casino gambling issues.

Source:  By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, The Boston Globe, www.bostonglobe.com 21 January 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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