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20060302 Daily News Big Donor to Ricks Charity Was Seeking Federal Aid

20060302 Daily News Big Donor to Ricks Charity Was Seeking Federal Aid

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Published by: Rock Quarry on Mar 26, 2009
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06/16/2009

 
Big donor to Ricks charity was seeking federal aid
 Author:
WILL BUNCH bunchw @phillynews.com 215-854-2957 
 Article Text:The largest known giver to a controversial charity founded by U.S. Sen. Rick
Santorum
made its $25,000 donationas the senator was working to win as much as $8.5 million in federal aid for the donor's project in Delaware County.Federal tax records show that Preferred Real Estate Inc., the developer of the Wharf at Rivertown project in Chester,wrote the check to
Santorum
's Operation Good
Neighbor
 
Foundation
in 2002.On his campaign Web site,
Santorum
boasts of winning $8.5 million in federal aid for the riverfront redevelopment ofan abandoned Peco Energy plant - an effort that culminated in the earmarking of $6 million in highway money lastyear.But good-government experts were troubled by the appearance of a developer giving money to the senator's charityat the same time it was lobbying for federal dollars. Unlike a campaign contribution, checks to a charity can be writtenby a corporation and are not subject to any limit."It's a neat window into how Washington works," said Gary Ruskin of the Congressional Accountability Project, one ofseveral watchdogs troubled by the potential conflicts when a member of Congress also solicits funds for a charity heruns. "It shows that, more and more, Washington is for sale."The Operation Good
Neighbor
 
Foundation
- a charity that
Santorum
established in 2001 with the aim of helpingfaith-based groups and others battling poverty and social ills - already is under fire for spending considerably less onaid and more on expenses than the Better Business Bureau and other charitable watchdogs recommend.Also, several campaign aides are on the payroll or connected with the charity, including
Santorum
's campaignfinance chief, lobbyist Rob Bickhart, who's been paid $75,000 by Operation Good
Neighbor
in salary and whosecompany also receives rent from the charity.
Santorum
campaign aides were contacted for this article but declined to comment. In an article last month in theliberal American Prospect magazine, and highlighted in the Daily News, a spokeswoman denied that
Santorum
hadgiven special treatment to any donor.Besides the charitable gift - listed on a page inadvertently included in a 2002 tax filing - officials from Preferred RealEstate and their spouses have donated $22,350 to
Santorum
's re-election campaign and $6,000 to his political-action committee, America's
Foundation
.Charles Howder, director of acquisitions for Preferred Real Estate, based in Conshohocken, acknowledged that
Santorum
was one of a number of government officials helpful in winning aid for the redevelopment of the formerlyabandoned and polluted power plant.But he said the charitable donation had not been connected in any way to the Chester project and had not beensolicited by the senator, but volunteered by the company's chief executive officer, Michael O'Neill, a philanthropistwho directed more than $1 million in donations that year. "The Operation Good
Neighbor
 
Foundation
, fromeverything we know, is a great charity," Howder said.Preferred bought the Chester site in 1999 for $1, although company officials said they had spent at least $50 millionfixing it up. In May 2001,
Santorum
announced during a news conference at the site that Preferred had landed itsfirst tenant, the software company Synygy Inc. The next month,
Santorum
wrote a letter to then- Housing and UrbanDevelopment Secretary Mel Martinez - now a U.S. senator from Florida - in a successful push for a $1.4 million HUDgrant.In 2002, Preferred was listed as one of three entities that gave $25,000 to
Santorum
's charity. The next year, thecompany hired a D.C.-area lobbying firm - Mehl, Griffin & Bartek, Ltd. - and paid it more than $60,000 to lobbyCongress and federal agencies for highway and HUD dollars.Last July,
Santorum
joined with Pennsylvania's other senator, Arlen Specter, in announcing that $6 million had beenearmarked in the 2005 federal highway bill for ramps providing access to the project from Interstate 95 and U.S. 322 -the largest such earmark in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

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