Embattled Rep. Michael Grimm is under attack by government watchdog groups that claim he’s being paid by natural gas companies for backing legislation that could earn the energy giants millions — but a defiant Grimm says that is how government is supposed to work.
Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) sponsored a bill that would allow Williams Companies and National Grid to build a $265 million natural gas pipeline through Mill Basin. A few months later, the two companies donated a total of $3,000 to Grimm’s re-election campaign — contributions critics say prove that Grimm is steeped in Washington’s pay-to-play culture, where deep-pocketed companies reward a politician’s assistance with campaign donations, or shower a political candidate with contributions to ensure that the lawmaker will help them in the future.
But Grimm said he sees nothing wrong with accepting donations from Williams Companies and National Grid.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to work,” Grimm said. “People are going to donate if they think I’m doing a good job.”
Political watchdog groups were astonished that the legislator made no qualms about his quid-pro-quo relationship with the two energy companies.
“It’s outrageous for a sitting member of Congress to acknowledge so directly that he accepts contributions from individuals because this is how government is supposed to work,” said Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union. “To give the impression that he responds to those who give gifts to his campaign just shows how in bed he is with the pay-to-play culture.”
Meredith McGehee, the policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said the Williams Companies and National Grid donations, “show the influence of contributors, at a minimum, to buy access to [politicians].”
The pipeline would increase National Grid’s gas output to Brooklyn and Queens by 10 percent — allowing the company to grow its 1.2 million customer base in the two boroughs and reap a potential multi-million dollar windfall in the process.
National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young wouldn’t say exactly how much money the new pipeline will bring in for the company, which earned $800 million in the first half of last year alone.
But she defended the company’s contribution, claiming that Grimm was one of a number of elected officials National Grid gave money to in New York last year. National Grid also donated to the campaigns to re-elect Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–New York) and Rep. Ed Towns (D–Fort Greene), records show.
“[The contributions are] a way for our employees to be involved in the political process and make a difference in the communities in which we live and work,” Young said.
Williams Companies will profit off the pipeline by charging National Grid for taking the gas from its massive Atlantic Ocean supply line, according to company spokesman Chris Stockton, who wouldn’t provide further details.
But Stockton also denied that company’s donation to Grimm had anything to do with the bill he sponsored, saying it was based solely on his two-year track record in Congress.
“We never make a contribution with the expectation that it will lead to favors or otherwise favorable treatment,” Stockton said.
The multi-billion dollar company also donated campaign cash to Gillibrand, as well as Rep. Steve Israel (D–Long Island) and dozens of other lawmakers from around the country last year.
Grimm proposed building the pipeline — which requires federal approval since it would run through the Gateway National Recreation Area, the borough’s only national park — last July. The House approved Grimm’s bill earlier this month.
The Senate has yet to schedule a vote on the bill since it must first be approved by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where the law is under review, a senate spokesman said.
Once the pipeline is given the green light, contractors will rip up Flatbush Avenue from Avenue U to a proposed meter station in an existing hangar at Floyd Bennett Field — an urban oasis used by birders, sports teams and campers.
The Bloomberg administration is backing the project because the pipeline would help the city meet its goal of making its energy supply cleaner and cheaper by 2030 and allow more buildings to switch from fuel oil to natural gas.
Grimm said the pipeline would be an economic boon for Brooklyn by creating 300 new jobs.
“This was something that was a priority for me from day one,” Grimm said. “It’s going to be very good for the community.”
Grimm has suffered through a string of controversies this month, including the hiring of Fran Vella-Marrone, a scandal-scarred activist accused of committing an ethics violation by getting her husband a patronage job that ultimately led to the death of a 17-year-old girl. He’s also been accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions in 2010, and covering up his connection to a former business partner who spent 18 months in prison.