The small Montana energy company that botched the critical rebuilding of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria spent $150,000 lobbying Congress last quarter amid investigations, a disclosure report filed Friday shows.
The fourth quarter lobbying report shows that Whitefish paid the law firm Foley & Lardner to have five representatives lobby the Senate and House on the company’s behalf.
What the firm was specifically hired to accomplish is unclear.
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In the report, under “Specific lobbying issues,” Foley & Lardner wrote “Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to rebuild transmission lines damaged from recent hurricane damage.”
The five lobbyists working for Whitefish included two former members of Congress (David Cardoza and Scott Klug); two former congressional staffers (Jennifer Walsh and Ted Bornstein); and Michael Crossen, an attorney whose experience includes representing “businesses before boards and administrative agencies in all forms dispute resolutions,” according to a company profile.
Whitefish Energy and Foley & Lardner did not immediately respond to questions from the Center for Responsive Politics on Wednesday.
Last year, Whitefish was thrust into controversy after it was awarded a $300 million contract by Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), an electric power corporation owned by the Puerto Rican government, to rebuild the island’s power grids after Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory. The September disaster knocked out the power of 3.4 million residents on the island and resulted in a death toll that may be upwards of 1,000.
The Puerto Rican government gave the two-person Montana utility company the contract almost out of the blue, without a competitive bidding process and with significant price markups certain services.
The deal also drew skepticism because the company is based in the small hometown of Ryan Zinke, interior secretary for the Trump administration. Zinke denied claims that he was tied to the contract.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico,” Zinke said in a statement. “Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless. Only in elitist Washington D.C. would being from a small town be considered a crime.”
In October, PREPA canceled the contract with Whitefish as it drew investigations by the Department of Homeland Security, multiple House committees and the Puerto Rican government.
When news broke the company had signed with Foley & Lardner, a Whitefish spokesman said in a statement to The Hill that the firm was hired to give the company “representation in D.C.”
“Whitefish Energy has a reputation to uphold and we felt that Foley would help us in being able to have those conversations in a productive manner,” said Ken Luce, a former spokesman for the company.