Puerto Rican Political Leader Criticizes ‘Questionable’ Governor-Linked Charity

Brother of governor listed as organization’s only paid employee

PNP Secretary General Jose Aponte
PNP Secretary General Jose Aponte / AP

The secretary general of the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico criticized a corporate-funded charity for employing the brother of the Puerto Rican governor on Friday, calling the arrangement "questionable" and "improper."

The Washington Free Beacon first reported last week on the Sociedad Económica De Amigos Del Pais, a charitable group that receives nearly all of its funding from companies with business interests in Puerto Rico. The group lists Antonio Garcia Padilla, the brother of Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, as its sole employee.

Jose Aponte, the secretary general of the PNP, said on Friday that the significant uptick in corporate donations to the group after Garcia Padilla became its governing director appears improper, El Vocero reported.

"It should not be giving that appearance," said Aponte, who called for greater transparency and said the current arrangement looked "disastrous."

The charity was founded by former SEIU boss Dennis Rivera in 1996 as a legal rights group called the Hispanic Legal and Research Fund. In 2014, Rivera quietly changed the group’s name and moved it to Puerto Rico with the revised goal of assisting the island’s economic recovery.

Antonio Garcia Padilla was brought in as the Sociedad Económica’s general director. In 2014, the organization received $275,000 in donations from companies with business interests in Puerto Rico, more than twice what the group had received in the previous six years combined.

Governor Garcia Padilla came under fire in December after his top fundraiser and several members of his administration were charged in a bribery and extortion scheme that was linked to another brother of the governor.

Donors to the Sociedad Económica include Banco Popular, the island’s largest bank, which has lobbied the federal government in favor of Puerto Rican debt restructuring. Banco Popular contributed $100,000 to the organization in 2014. The chairman of the bank’s parent company, Richard Carrion, is also a Sociedad Económica board member.

On Monday, the student council at the University of Puerto Rico, where Antonio Garcia Padilla also works as a professor, called for an audit of his outside work for the Sociedad Económica to determine whether it had interfered with his position at the university, the Metro reported.

On Friday, Rivera circulated a memo blasting the Free Beacon after it first reported on the Sociedad Económica. The memo’s metadata showed the document had been written by a staffer at the communications firm SKD Knickerbocker, a public relations firm that is retained by the government of Puerto Rico.

SKD Knickerbocker confirmed to the Free Beacon on Friday that it had drafted the memo. Nell Callahan, a vice president at the firm, said Rivera had hired SKD Knickerbocker in his personal capacity to help respond to the Free Beacon’s report.