State funding, at request of House Democrats, went to non-profits and other organizations controlled by Kirkland friends and family
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Marcus Hook Mayor Jay Schiliro today announced that he is filing a formal complaint with the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission regarding Representative Thaddeus Kirkland (D-159) and state funding that has been directed to non-profits and other organizations controlled by Kirkland’s family and close associates. Schiliro also provided the documents and other information to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office for review.
According to documents and research, state funding was directed by the House Democratic Caucus, presumably at the request of Representative Kirkland to at least three organizations controlled by Kirkland’s friends and family.
“I believe the method in which these organizations were funded and their close ties to Kirkland, his family, and associates raises serious ethical concerns and I believe is warrant an ethics inere were any illegal activities,” said Schiliro.
Rep. Kirkland lists one organization that received state funding, Community Baptist Church, as a source of income on state financial disclosure reports. The timing of the state funding of $30,000 coincides with the timing at which Kirkland began to list the organization on his statement of financial interests as a source of direct or indirect income. Kirkland's biography states that he is director of youth services at Community Baptist Church while grant documentation states that a portion of the funds, awarded in 2008 and 2009, went to pay for a program coordinator for the youth group. If that program coordinator was Rep. Kirkland, this would appear to be a conflict of interest and serious ethical issue. However, even if Kirkland is not the program coordinator in question, it would seem to be a serious ethics issue if Kirkland used his official capacity as an elected official to direct $30,000 in state funding to his employer.
“The timing of the grants in 2008 and 2009 -- which coincide with the time at which Kirkland begins to list the church as a source of direct or indirect income on his statement of financial interests -- certainly raises questions,” wrote Schiliro.
In addition, the Chester Fine Arts Center East has received nearly $130,000 in state funding between 2008 and 2010, the period for which DCED grants documentation is available. However, state funding, provided at the direction of House Democrats as WAMs, dates back to at last the 1990s. The organization was founded by Anzer Kirkland, Thaddeus’ brother, and Kirkland’s wife, Susie Kirkland has served as both acting president and board president of the organization. Official grant documentation indicates that $65,000 of a $100,000 grant -- awarded in 2008 -- was used to pay the salary of the executive director of the organization, John Wooten. Some online information appears to indicate that Wooten is a relative, perhaps by marriage, of Kirkland.
In addition, according to a company website, Wooten serves as Senior Vice President at Starr Associates. Starr Associates lists Chester Fine Arts Center East (CFACE) as a “current or former client.” Of note, Starr and Associates is the public affairs firm of Ronald Starr, a former campaign consultant to Kirkland, who is also married to Kirkland’s daughter, Tyra.
“I believe it would be worth examining whether the board of directors of this non-profit approved expending money for a public relations firm that employed its family members and whether those board members benefitted in any way from the manner in which they expended state dollars,” said Schiliro. “Given the many close family ties, it would seem reasonable that Rep. Kirkland would know whether and if this funding would benefit his family and associates.”
The Department of Community and Economic Development also provided $85,000 in funding in 2009 to the Across Color Cultural Festival This event is widely reported in the press as “Kirkland’s” festival. Kirkland’s daughter, Tyra Starr is listed on the Chester Fine Arts Center East as a performer and online sources indicate she has performed at the festival as a singer. Grant documentation indicates that $42,000 of the above mentioned grant was used to pay for the performance of singing groups. If Tyra Starr was in fact paid for her performance using state dollars and Thaddeus used his office to advocate or direct the funding, Shiliro believec this would also be worthy of an ethics review.
The treasurer of Across Colors is Leola Williams, who Schiliro believes may also be related to Thaddeus, and the President of Across Colors is Lashanda Wooten, who it is believed is related to John Wooten, the executive director of the Chester Fine Arts Center and is listed as Senior Vice President of Starr and Associates.
Schiliro also took aim at Kirkland’s campaign finance filings. He noted that incomplete information on Kirkland’s campaign finance reports is widespread. His spring 2012 filings fail to include addresses and employment for major donors, including donors in the $1,000 to $5,000 contribution range. One would assume Kirkland would know such basic information about his largest donors. His failure to provide such basic information only raises additional questions.
Kirkland’s campaign finance reports contains tens of thousands of dollars in payments to “cash” and payments to Thaddeus Kirkland himself for “campaign day expenses,” “food,” and “poll workers,” raises additional questions.
“I would be curious what backup documentation and receipts exist for these payments and whether the campaign or Thaddeus issued any IRS 1099 forms to these campaign workers for tax purposes,” said Schiliro. “I believe it is important that full documentation be provided that show the expenditures actually used for their stated purposes.
Kirkland said the information he has collected raise a number of serious questions: Is a legislator allowed to steer money to an entity (Community Baptist Church) listed as source of income? Was Kirkland paid out of the grant money to the church? Was Kirkland’s Daughter paid for her performance at the Cultural Festival and did Kirkland advocate for funding to an entity that may have then paid his daughter? If Wooten is in fact related to Kirkland, did Kirkland direct state funding to an entity (Chester Fine Arts Center East) that then paid a relative a $65,000 salary using state money? Was Kirkland aware that the non-profit CFACE intended to employ Starr Associates, a company run by Ron Starr, his campaign consultant and who is believed to be Kirkland’s son-in-law?
Is the apparent increase over the past four years in State House hearings and other “official” taxpayer funded events hosted at CFACE coincidental, or related to the elimination of WAMS and subsequent limitations placed on the ability of legislators to direct DCED funding to organizations like CFACE? Do these rentals represent the best venues for these public meetings and hearings and what are the total state payments to CFACE since 2008 for facility usage? Is this a backdoor attempt to provide a state subsidy to a non-profit run by his family and friends that in turn sponsors a music festival that helps boost his popularity and re-election chances?
How else was taxpayer funding utilized in years prior to 2008 – the last year for which the detailed grant documentation is available online -- for non-profits that are closely tied to Kirkland and did additional family members benefit? Who are the security personnel, consultants and dancers listed in the various grant requests and are they related to Kirkland in some way? What type of documentation exists, if any, for the Kirkland campaign’s tens of thousands of dollars in payments to “cash” and other payments made by the campaign directly to Kirkland himself?