Labor Boss Attacks Free Beacon After Story on Mysterious Puerto Rican Charity

PR firm linked to White House circulates ‘research memo’

Dennis Rivera
Dennis Rivera / AP
• January 22, 2016 3:55 pm


A New York labor boss is circulating a "research memo" blasting the Washington Free Beacon as a "conservative smear machine" and a "tool of right wing extremists" just one day after the Free Beacon published a story on a mysterious charity he has been operating in Puerto Rico.

The "Washington Free Beacon research" memo was obtained by the Free Beacon after former SEIU chief Dennis Rivera emailed it to various associates on Friday. According to the document’s metadata, it was drafted by a staffer at the White House-linked public relations firm SKD Knickerbocker.

The memo, which appeared to have been compiled in haste, was circulated in response to a Free Beacon story that was published on Thursday. The story revealed that companies with business interests in Puerto Rico were pouring money into Rivera’s charity, which lists the brother of the scandal-plagued governor of Puerto Rico as its only paid employee.

The charity, which had been founded in 1996 as a Hispanic legal rights group, quietly changed its name to the "Sociedad Económica De Amigos Del Pais Inc." and moved to Puerto Rico in 2014 with the revised mission of helping support the island’s economic recovery.

The group is funded by prominent Puerto Rican companies that are also lobbying for debt restructuring and federal financial assistance for the island. Rivera has recently been a vocal advocate for increased Medicare and Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico.

Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has been under fire after his top fundraiser and several administration officials were charged in December in a bribery and extortion scheme that was also linked to one of the governor’s brothers.

Another brother of the governor, Antonio Garcia Padilla, is the only paid employee of the Sociedad Económica and acts as the group’s governing director, according to its 2014 tax filing. He received a salary of $70,000.

SKD Knickerbocker vice president Nell Callahan, who was listed as the author of the memo, told the Free Beacon that Rivera rushed to hire the firm immediately after the revelations about his Puerto Rico group hit the press.

"Dennis Rivera has retained SKDK to set the record straight about yesterday’s inaccurate and misleading smear story by your widely discredited right-wing outlet," said Callahan.

The government of Puerto Rico recently hired the New York-based public relations firm to help lobby the federal government for debt restructuring and other economic support.

SKD Knickerbocker is run by President Obama’s former communications director Anita Dunn and maintains close ties with the Obama administration. On Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew publicly backed a proposal that would allow Puerto Rico to default on its debts.

"The people of Puerto Rico are sacrificing, but unless that sacrifice is shared by creditors in an orderly restructuring, there is no path out of insolvency and back to growth," said Lew, according to a report in the San Juan Daily Star.

Rivera did not respond to request for comment by press time.