Storm Tips: Chairman Towns directs earmarks to organizations tied to aides
Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) has backed away from an earmark he promoted that will benefit an organization employing one of his aides.
The earmark withdrawal came last week as the New York Daily News was reporting that the lawmaker, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, "tried to steer $5.3 million in taxpayer money to a nonprofit that employs one of his staffers. ... The group, Trinity Community Development and Empowerment Group Inc., lists a vacant building as its address and a total of $329 in revenue on its 2008 tax filing."
But LegiStorm has found that this is not the first time he has provided an earmark to support an organization associated to one of his aides, without that association being disclosed. In 2008, with the help of three of his New York colleagues, Towns secured a $478,000 earmark for the Brooklyn Public Library. Albert Wiltshire, Towns's top aide and a long-time community leader in Brooklyn, serves on the board of the library but one wouldn't know this from his personal financial disclosures, which omit any mention of his position with the library. Also omitted are several other organizations that Wiltshire is associated with, including a foundation tied to a company that paid him an eye-popping $1.7 million as a severance and pay package when he left just prior to joining Towns's office.
A Towns spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.
According to the organization web sites, Wiltshire has served - and possibly still does - on the boards of the Brooklyn Public Library, St. Vincent Services, Brooklyn Music School and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. since he has worked for Congress. Wiltshire also has served on the board of the corporate foundation of National Grid, his former employer. The organizations have promoted his affiliation with the congressman by identifying his congressional title.
The House Ethics Manual states the broad sweep of the mandate to disclose board memberships: "Individuals must disclose any nongovernmental positions, whether or not compensated, that they hold, unless the Statement is the first one filed with the House. On an individual‘s first Statement, the individual must disclose all positions they currently hold as well as those held in the previous two years. Included are such positions as officer, director, trustee, partner, proprietor, representative, employee, or consultant of any corporation, company, firm, partnership, or other business enterprise, any nonprofit organization, any labor organization, or any educational or other institution."
In addition to the lack of disclosure of the organizations he's tied to, Wiltshire's financial disclosure stands out because of his severance package before he joined Congress's payroll on Oct. 1, 2007. In the two years of publishing congressional staff disclosures, having reviewed thousands of disclosures so far, Wiltshire's severance is among the most generous we have encountered.Wiltshire was a former New York City police officer who retired with a pension and had a second career as a corporate lobbyist. He worked for energy giant KeySpan Corp. from 1997, eventually rising to vice president for government relations in January 2006, reporting to the executive vice president for corporate affairs and chief environmental officer. The following year, the British firm National Grid purchased KeySpan and Wiltshire lost his job in the resulting shakeup.
Although Wiltshire was junior to at least a dozen other corporate officers, he walked away with 2007 compensation of $1.7 million. His disclosure did not specify what portion of that was salary and what was severance. In 2008, he received $34,000 in retirement benefits from KeySpan and its successor company.
Even during Wiltshire's time as a KeySpan lobbyist, he worked both for Towns in his congressional office, drawing a small salary from his congressional office from 2001 through until the end of 2002. Wiltshire has also served as Towns's campaign treasurer since the early 1980s.
This post is part of our occasional series "Storm Tips," in which we highlight interesting items we stumble across in our raw records.