Delahunt capitalizes on the private sector
During his final weeks in Congress, William D. Delahunt stood before his constituents at a packed public meeting in Quincy, urging the city to take swift action on a billion-dollar-plus overhaul of Quincy Center.
A year and nine days later, he was consulting on the project for Quincy, with a contract paying him $90,000 a year.
Quincy is just one of the constituents Delahunt represented for 14 years in the US House that now pays him for services as a consultant or lobbyist. During the past three years, Delahunt’s self-named firm has forged deals with the town of Hull, commercial fishermen on Cape Cod, and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
Most recently, the 72-year-old former prosecutor positioned himself squarely in the golden gateway to a lucrative but increasingly controversial new industry in Massachusetts, medical marijuana sales.
Many former congressmen turn to lobbying after retiring, but their connections often keep them focused on work within the Beltway. Delahunt’s transformation from silver-haired statesman to savvy dealmaker has occurred right before his constituents’ eyes.
“To me, it just doesn’t feel right,” said Quincy resident Ron Pepe, who asked why the city would hire a consultant to represent its interests rather than rely on his successor in Congress.
But Delahunt characterizes his new work as a continuation of the advocacy on issues that motivated him during his years in politics.
“It’s not about the money — not at my age,” Delahunt said in a brief interview. “It’s about staying engaged in policies that I had been involved in when I was in Congress and as district attorney.”
“I feel very good about the things that I’m doing, because I believe in the causes,” he added.
Delahunt’s second act exploded into controversy last month after details emerged about the unusually lucrative deals he had won for managing medical marijuana dispensaries. His team was approved for 3 of the 20 provisional licenses the state Department of Public Health announced in January, leading to questions about whether Delahunt’s political influence had driven the decisions. The DPH commissioner had, in the past, held fund-raisers for Delahunt; she recused herself from decisionmaking at the 11th hour.
Delahunt argued that he found success in the dispensary sweepstakes because his local team carried credibility in Massachusetts.
“I dare say that the reason that we scored as high as we did is because we had those people who had the confidence of the local communities,” Delahunt said. “They have reputations.”
One of the unsuccessful bidders who have filed lawsuits on the selection process highlighted the terms of the Delahunt team’s agreement. Delahunt was due to earn $250,000 as chief executive of the medical marijuana venture, and was a manager in a separate management company that would claim 50 percent of revenues – more than $24 million during the first three years, based on the company’s projections.
After the controversy erupted, the management company filed corporate documents showing Delahunt had resigned from the board. He also now says that he is no longer an investor and he is declining a salary as chief executive for the first two years of operation.
Delahunt denied that the deal ever would have been as lucrative as his agreement suggested, saying that the revenue would have been eaten up by costs for facilities and drug education.
“It’s being grossly distorted,” he said, “because some people have an agenda to distort it.”
Medical marijuana was only the latest venture in which the longtime pol is now playing middleman between government agencies and private businesses, sometimes becoming involved in projects for which he helped secure federal funding while in Congress.
Just two months after he left office in January 2011, Delahunt registered as a lobbyist and hired his former chief of staff, Mark Forest, and former campaign manager P.J. O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan had formed his own public relations and lobbying firm, O’Sullivan and Associates, while Delahunt was still in Congress. At the time, he shared an office with Delahunt's campaign committee in Quincy’s Marina Bay.
The first big lobbying client Delahunt announced was the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which aims to build a casino in Taunton. The Mashpee have since paid The Delahunt Group nearly $500,000, according to state lobbying records, in their effort to get the federal government to take the proposed Taunton site into trust on the tribe’s behalf — a required step before they can build a casino. However, a 2009 Supreme Court ruling has entangled the process and the tribe’s chances currently appear slim.
“I was aware of their history and how they had really been an oppressed minority, and that this was an opportunity,” Delahunt said. “I’m not being paid that much money.”
Federal law prohibits members of Congress from lobbying their former colleagues and their staff for one year after leaving office. State law bars former state employees from ever being paid to handle work they once handled for the state.
But nothing in state or federal law prohibits someone from leaving Congress and immediately lobbying hard within their former district.
“Fair game,” said Dave Levinthal, senior political reporter for the Center for Public Integrity. “You can take that experience, take those connections, and put them to work on behalf of your bank account as a former member of Congress who goes into the lobbying or political influence game. That doesn’t need to be in Washington D.C.”
Quincy’s two-year contract, since renewed, paid The Delahunt Group $180,000 for planning, permitting, and working with state and federal agencies on the $1.6 billion downtown redevelopment he had once pushed. Chris Walker, a Quincy city spokesman, stressed that the contract was not for lobbying.
However, another South Shore town canceled a contract with The Delahunt Group after facing criticism for the former congressman’s involvement. Delahunt had won a $90,000 six-month consulting contract to find a company interested in testing wind turbines off the coast of Hull. The deal blew up after news broke that Delahunt’s payment would come from federal earmarks he alone sponsored during his last two years in office — an arrangement that one government watchdog called a “self-made golden parachute.”
Delahunt quieted the controversy by announcing that he would work for Hull for free.
But that wasn’t the end of his congressional team’s involvement.
Months later, Delahunt’s former regional director in Congress, Chris Adams, was hired as a consultant by Hull to manage the grant that his old boss had secured.
Adams has been paid $57,293 since February 2012, documents show. Adams noted that he had experience with wind energy as regional director for Delahunt during review of the offshore Cape Wind project, which the congressman opposed.
In an interview, Adams said he had “never worked for The Delahunt Group,” but that he likely would have had the original project gone through as expected.
“I ended up being offered the job from the town directly rather than working for the Delahunt Group,” Adams said.
However, during that same period, Adams represented The Delahunt Group at meetings of the Cape Cod Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Cape Cod Joint Transportation Committee, minutes of those meetings show.
Adams acknowledged that he signed in to those meetings on behalf of the Delahunt Group to help his friend, Forest, who couldn’t make it.
“This was completely voluntary on my part,” he said in an e-mail. “I was not paid by anyone, including The Delahunt Group, for this.”
Another former Delahunt aide is also working on a project his former boss helped usher in. Delahunt helped pave the way for the redevelopment of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station into a new community called SouthField. Last summer, SouthField repaid the favor, paving a road and dedicating it as the Bill Delahunt Parkway.
O’Sullivan, Delahunt’s onetime campaign manager, has been working as a consultant to the public body overseeing the project, South Shore Tri-Town Development Co., since Delahunt was in Congress, documents show. O’Sullivan and Associates has been paid $10,000 a month for most of that time.
Now O’Sullivan is also president of The Delahunt Group, and O’Sullivan and Associates shares Delahunt’s office space. On a visit to the joint office, Aidan Leary, an employee of both firms, confirmed that O’Sullivan and Associates operates there, although there’s no sign outside the suite to indicate its existence. O’Sullivan did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked what distinguishes the two firms and whether his group is profiting from O’Sullivan’s contract, Delahunt responded by e-mail, “They are completely DIFFERENT entities with DIFFERENT clients. The Delahunt Group receives NO money from any Tri Town contract.”
He also said he did not encourage the town of Hull or the Tri-Town group to hire his onetime aides.
Good-government watchdogs are particularly concerned about officials getting involved in private-sector work on projects in which they were involved while in elective office.
“The real danger is what are they doing while they’re in office? Do they have an eye on what they’re going to be doing and how they’re going to cash in when they get out?” said John Dunbar, managing editor for politics at the Center for Public Integrity.
Delahunt, who calmly fielded questions about his new career, grew angry when asked whether he had paved the way for his future while in Congress.
“That’s totally false. I’ll tell you the question is insulting,” Delahunt said, questioning the motives of those who raised the notion.
But political observers note that during his political career, Delahunt often appeared unworried about public perception.
Even as he launched his first campaign for Congress in 1995, Delahunt, then Norfolk district attorney, drove flashy cars repossessed from drug dealers by his prosecutors, the Boston Herald reported at the time.
That year, a Republican opponent accused Delahunt of carrying on a “lavish lifestyle” that included billing his campaign for $100,000 in meals and vacationing at a Jamaican “sex resort.”
The Globe and other media outlets reported that Delahunt had charged his campaign for a phone call from his visit to “Hedonism II,” an adults-only resort in Jamaica.
And as outgoing Norfolk district attorney, he pushed for legislation that let prosecutors retire at age 55 with full pay, the Globe reported in 1997. At 55, he became the first to take advantage of the new benefit — on the same day he entered Congress.
In 2010, Delahunt began draining his campaign account and put his former wife, daughter, and son-in-law on his campaign payroll before announcing that he would not run again.
He also bought a new campaign office in Quincy using a family trust.
Today, that campaign office houses The Delahunt Group, O’Sullivan and Associates, and Campaign for Change, the political action committee that Delahunt formed while still in Congress.
A political action committee lets a current or former elected official make campaign contributions and continue to support political causes. It also allows for nearly unchecked personal spending.
Last year, Delahunt’s PAC contributed $57,300 to other political committees, while spending nearly $250,000 on expenses including restaurant tabs, hotel bills, and airplane flights. Treasurer Tom Kiley said all those expenses were related to committee work, not to the lobbying business.
The PAC also paid Delahunt’s former wife, Katharina Hermani, payments totaling $18,869 last year, campaign finance records show. Kiley said the payments were for her recordkeeping work, and that she is the PAC’s only employee and principal point of contact — although Kiley, not she, answered questions for the Globe.
Each month, the PAC also pays $3,500 month in rent for the joint Quincy office suite where The Delahunt Group operates.
Kiley said the rent only supports the PAC’s portion of the office. “They are separate entitites,” Delahunt reiterated.
But in a twist of political and personal interests, the rent is paid back to Delahunt’s family trust, which benefits his daughters and former wife. Delahunt bought the property through Triplet Irrevocable Trust, which gets the rent no matter who pays.