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DRPA donated $775,000 to groups

Much of the charity since 2004 went to those with ties to the board. Last month, the agency halted such giving.

The Ben Franklin Bridge, owned and operated by the DRPA. The DRPA has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to civic and social agencies, many with ties to board members and executives. (file)
The Ben Franklin Bridge, owned and operated by the DRPA. The DRPA has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to civic and social agencies, many with ties to board members and executives. (file)Read more

The Delaware River Port Authority has contributed about $775,000 since 2004 to civic and social agencies, often to groups with close ties to DRPA board members and executives.

The money ultimately came from tolls and fares paid by the users of the agency's four Delaware River bridges and PATCO trains.

Many of the recipients were familiar charities such as the American Red Cross, the United Way, and the March of Dimes.

Others were less well-known, such as the Jazz Journeys Educational Institute (which received three payments totaling $15,000) and the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery (three payments totaling $7,500).

Even the Philadelphia Eagles ($1,500) and the University of Pennsylvania ($5,000) benefited from the DRPA's charity.

Its board last month voted to ban such charitable giving, as part of a series of new rules designed to change the agency's culture of patronage and political influence.

DRPA records show the biggest beneficiary of its "social and civic sponsorship fund" was the Philadelphia Tribune, which has received 13 payments totaling $59,180 since 2004. The publisher of the Tribune, Robert W. Bogle, has been a member of the DRPA board since 1996.

Bogle said the money had paid for advertisements in the newspaper, which targets a primarily African American audience. He said the Tribune does not receive charitable contributions, because it is not a nonprofit organization, and he said, "I'm not aware of any contributions."

Bogle said he abstained from voting on any measures that affected the Tribune and had not submitted any requests for money or had any "direct or indirect" contact with anyone at the DRPA on the Tribune's behalf.

"I'm very sensitive to that," Bogle said.

Another major recipient has been the Seamen's Church Institute, an ecumenical ministry that serves merchant sailors at Delaware River ports. It received 27 payments, more than any other group, totaling $19,300.

The DRPA's chief executive, John Matheussen, is a member of the Seamen's Church Institute board. He also is chairman of the board of the Battleship New Jersey, which has received 10 DRPA charitable donations totaling $12,800.

Matheussen is also on the executive committee of the boards of the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia (which received 17 DRPA payments totaling $11,925), the Boy Scouts of America South Jersey region (two payments totaling $1,800), the Philadelphia Sports Congress (one payment for $5,000), the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (11 payments totaling $31,200), and the Southern New Jersey Development Council (five payments totaling $2,665).

By virtue of his office, Matheussen is also a nonvoting board member of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which directs federal money to transportation projects in the area.

The DRPA was a "platinum" donor to the commission's banquets, giving 14 payments totaling $19,000.

DRPA spokesman Ed Kasuba said Matheussen "is not part of the sponsorship committee or approval process" for the grants.

He said a committee of staffers from various DRPA departments reviewed the requests and made recommendations to chairman John Estey and vice chairman Jeffrey Nash for approval.

Estey approved the Pennsylvania grants, and Nash approved the New Jersey grants, Kasuba said.

When Philadelphia lawyer Kenneth Trujillo was a DRPA board member (he resigned in March), he helped Hispanic groups get contributions from the DRPA, he said.

Among the recipients were El Sol newspaper ($15,000), Congreso de Latinos Unidos ($5,000), the Latin American Economic Development Association ($500), and the Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey ($450).

Labor leaders from both Pennsylvania and New Jersey are on the DRPA board, and labor was represented in charitable giving, too: The New Jersey State Building and Construction Trades Council received six contributions totaling $8,000.

And when DRPA board member E. Frank DiAntonio retired as president of Laborers Local 172, the DRPA contributed $2,000 to the E. Frank DiAntonio Retirement Gala Committee.

Even the Ducky Birts Foundation got two payments, totaling $750.

Birts, 74, is an aide to Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) who created a foundation to give high school seniors scholarship money to attend Cheyney and Lincoln Universities.

The charitable giving had its genesis in 2004 when the DRPA board created "sponsorship funds" of $250,000 each for Pennsylvania and New Jersey organizations. The accounts were to provide "funding for regional and social-service and civic organizations and sponsorship of corresponding events" in keeping with the DRPA's "good neighbor policy, [which] dates back to the inception of the authority."

The funding was taken from money borrowed for economic development.

In 2008, 2009, and 2010, an additional $50,000 a year was added for each state. In 2008 and 2009, the money was again taken from economic-development funding, and this year the funding came out of the operating budget.

A sponsorship committee was established to oversee the giving.

Spending was $108,671 in 2004, $165,969 in 2005, $159,224 in 2006, $64,085 in 2007, $95,509 in 2008, $129,168 in 2009, and $52,812 this year.

Last month, with the allotted money almost all spent, the board voted to end its charitable giving as part of changes designed to improve accountability and reduce favoritism.

"We're engaged in an effort to regain the public's trust," said board member Rob McCord, the Pennsylvania state treasurer, as he suggested ending charitable giving for two years.

"When 41 percent of our money goes for debt service, we should concentrate on getting solvent again," said board member John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, a Philadelphia labor leader.

The board voted to continue to allow noncash, "in-kind" contributions to groups that use DRPA bridges or parking lots for fund-raising activities.

DRPA Charitable Contributions

Selected donations, 2004-10

Recipient   Donations   Total

Philadelphia Tribune   13   $59,180

Greater Philadelphia

Chamber of Commerce   17   31,525

Philadelphia Convention

and Visitors Bureau   11   31,200

Woodland Community

Development Center   7   26,590

Seamen's Church Institute   27   19,300

Delaware Valley Regional

Planning Commission   14   19,000

Jazz Journeys Education Institute   3   15,000

El Sol Newspaper   2   15,000

American Red Cross   5   14,750

New Jersey Alliance for Action   11   13,800

Battleship New Jersey   10   12,800

World Trade Center

of Greater Philadelphia   17   11,925

PenJerDel Council   8   9,700

March of Dimes   8   9,000

New Jersey State Building

and Construction Trades Council   6   8,000

Jimmy Rollins Family Foundation   2   7,520

Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery   3   7,500

Chamber of Commerce

of Southern New Jersey   6   5,827

Total Delaware River Port Authority contributions: $775,439

SOURCE: Delaware River Port AuthorityEndText