Cities or towns that hire former U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt as a lobbyist must follow more than just the letter of the law; they must also consider perceptions tied to the fact that they could be paying Delahunt with money he approved while in Congress.
This could happen anywhere in the many communities Delahunt represented in Congress, but this week’s controversy is in Hull, where officials now say they will let the U.S. Department of Energy decide if it is ethical to hire Delahunt’s lobbying firm to guide it through the complex process of securing government funding for a major wind energy project.
Questions about giving Delahunt $90,000 for such work arise from the fact that he spearheaded the legislation that made such money available to communities pursuing certain green-energy projects.
There is no doubt that Delahunt’s familiarity with the issue and his access to key decision-makers have value for Hull in this endeavor, but a contract like this comes with potential baggage. It will be difficult for the town to avoid criticism that it turned a blind eye to the appearance of conflict simply because it suited its purposes.
Delahunt, who as a private citizen has made money off others whom he helped while in Congress, is far from a trailblazer in this lucrative game. Plenty of other lawmakers have also gone directly from the public sector to premiere lobbying outfits, where they can readily double, triple or quadruple a legislator’s paycheck.
This isn’t to say there aren’t ways for former legislators to capitalize on their experiences once they leave office. But in the Hull case, the line between the money’s genesis and its ultimate destination is distinct enough to warrant some soul searching on Hull’s part.
“It doesn’t look good,” said Mary Boyle of the political watchdog group Common Cause. “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 people accurately point out that it was Hull that approach them and Hull officials say they’re trying to do what’s best for the town and do it within the boundaries of what’s legal.
Yet this may be an occasion where being open about a deal isn’t enough. It may be a time when examining the intent of the law rather than just the letter of the law is required.