After media scrutiny and watchdog complaints, former Massachusetts congressman William D. Delahunt has decided to help the town of Hull with an offshore energy project for free, turning down $72,000 from federal earmarks he secured while still in the US House.
The Quincy Democrat made the surprise announcement Thursday night, when he told Hull officials and members of the town-run Hull Municipal Light Plant that he would do the work he received under a no-bid contract on a pro bono basis.
‘‘He believed that the confusion and the misunderstanding was generating a certain amount of controversy that distracted from the importance of the project and cast the community poorly,’’ said Mark Forest, executive director of The Delahunt Group, a consulting firm Delahunt founded after leaving Congress a year ago.
‘‘He didn’t think the town deserved the criticism for the project.’’
Last week, the Globe quoted two Washington-based watchdog groups that said taking money from an earmark he had secured amounted to a ‘‘self-made golden parachute’’ and contributed to public distrust of Congress.
Were Delahunt still in Congress, he would not have been able to take the contract work. Members of Congress must sign a certificate saying neither they nor anyone in their family would benefit from the earmarks.
The ban, however, does not remain in place after members of Congress retire — a loophole one of the watchdog groups said should be closed.
Hull, a South Shore town that already has two windmills, had initially considered building an offshore power plant akin to the Cape Wind project approved for Nantucket Sound.
But town officials concluded after soaring cost estimates that they should instead assess building a testing facility for offshore wind turbines. Turbines convert kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy that is then converted into electricity.
Federal databases show Delahunt was the lone sponsor of two earmarks for the project during his final two years in office. Earmarks are legislative provisions channeling federal money to a specific project, often derided as ‘‘pork-barrel’’ spending.
After such earmarks 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, for a total of $1.7 million. In each case, the funding was provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program.
Philip Lemnios, Hull’s town manager, defended the original contract, saying Delahunt and his firm were the most capable source of advice for the town’s strategic shift. He proposed paying The Delahunt Group $15,000 a month for six months, for a total of $90,000.
Eighty percent of the money was to have come from the Energy Department earmarks. The remaining 20 percent was to have come from the light plant.
Lemnios 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, the town manager said he decided to seek DOE review of the proposed contract to avoid allegations of a conflict of interest or favoritism. The Energy Department still has not given written approval of the deal, but Lemnios said he had received an initial verbal approval.
In a statement yesterday, Lemnios said: ‘‘From my perspective, this is another reason why the choice of The Delahunt Group made sense. For many years, Mr. Delahunt and members of his staff have had a deep commitment to Hull.’’
He added: ‘‘Forgoing compensation and still staying with the project is ample demonstration of The Delahunt Group’s commitment, integrity, and professionalism”