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Hull waits for ethics ruling before inking deal with Delahunt

Hull officials will let the U.S. Department of Energy decide if it’s ethical for Hull to make a deal with former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt’s lobbying firm to quarterback plans for an ambitious wind energy project.

Hull wants to give Delahunt a $90,000 contract, but the money would come from the same pot that Delahunt earmarked for the energy project during his last two years in Congress.

A decision from the energy department is expected in the next several weeks, but political observers with an eye on ethical missteps have already criticized the plan to cut Delahunt’s private firm in on some of the $1.7 million he earmarked when he was a public official.

Boston College Law School Professor George Brown said the deal smacks of the revolving door.

Brown is a former chairman of the Massachusetts Ethics Commission.

“It’s the classic problem of somebody taking advantage of an act they did while in the public sector, then returning to the private sector and benefiting from it,” he said. “It appears to raise questions of propriety, but as a legal matter, it falls between the cracks.”

Mary Boyle of the political watchdog group Common Cause took aim at the perception created by Delahunt accepting a $15,000-a-month contract with Hull.

“It doesn’t look good,” she said. “It raises a question: What was he thinking when he got that earmark? Was it something he had in mind? It just smacks of insiderism.”

Delahunt’s firm and Hull leaders defended their alliance, saying that they’ve met openly and turned to the federal agency for input on ethical concerns.

“We want to make sure everything’s done above board,” said Town Manager Philip Lemnios, pointing out that the town utility board met with him and Delahunt’s company last September in an open meeting to discuss the project.

Hull wants to move forward with a $60 million to $80 million plan to build four offshore wind turbines to supply the bulk of the town’s electrical needs. Two land-based wind turbines already supply about 12 percent of the town’s energy.

In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Delahunt earmarked $1.7 million to help fund the project through the Department of Energy.

Last year, Hull reached out to Delahunt’s newly formed lobbying and consulting firm to ask for help in getting permits and federal money to advance the wind farm.

“I recognized that given what they did on a day-to-day basis in Washington, they’ve got staff and skill set to help us on this project,” said Lemnios, adding that the town’s power plant is not required to use a public bidding process to hire a lobbyist.

Hull Selectman Domenico Sestito praised Lemnios’ actions.

“He kept this thing wide open,” said Sestito. “He’s waiting to hear back from the DOE and see if it’s legitimate. If it’s not, we’ll step back.”

Mark Forest, executive director of the Delahunt Group, said, “We did not seek out this work (with Hull).”

And although the earmarks came through during Delahunt’s last term in office, Forest said the congressman pursued them in 2007.

The track record of Delahunt’s earmarks as a congressman and current clients of his company is not limited to Hull.

Quincy hired Delahunt last year to help secure grants for the $1.3 billion Street-Works redevelopment of downtown. In 2008, Delahunt steered a $2.3 million earmark to Quincy for the Broad Meadows marsh restoration.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which wants to build a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts, has a $130,000 contract with the Delahunt Group to lobby for them a couple of years after the then-congressman earmarked $410,000 for the tribe’s substance abuse and youth programs.