An American firm that snagged a lucrative contract to restore electricity in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico is under scrutiny because its primary financial backer made contributions to Donald Trump.
Whitefish Energy Holdings is a tiny Montana-based company founded two years ago — and primarily financed by the private equity firm HBC Investments — that won a reportedly $300 million (Sh31bn) contract to help return power to the storm-battered US territory.
The Federal Electoral Commission (FEC), the US agency overseeing election law compliance, lists investor Joe Colonnetta as a major financial donor to Trump’s presidential campaign.
Puerto Rico is struggling to recover after Maria ripped through the island, leaving dozens of people dead and cutting power and running water to much of its population.
Slightly more than a month after the storm, some 80 per cent of customers still lack power.
Given the scale of the destruction, it came as a surprise that a small company like Whitefish received such a crucial contract.
After The Daily Beast news website reported about the Whitefish-Trump connection, island authorities and the company itself hurried to defend the decision.
“Of those who met the requirements and aggressive schedules to bring brigades, one was asking for a substantial amount of money,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, who promised audits of contracting processes, said.
“Another did not require it; that other one is Whitefish.
“The process was started because of the emergency situation, in order to be able to have brigades working here in Puerto Rico.”
Whitefish spokesman Ken Luce denounced as “baseless” any connection between the contract and the Trump campaign.
“There are millions of Trump supporters and there were millions of Clinton supporters,” he added.
The United States has faced widespread criticism for its response to Maria, as well as aid efforts following an earlier walloping from Hurricane Irma.
The twin storms slammed into the island already struggling with a severe financial crisis that forced the government to file for bankruptcy in May.
Ricardo Ramos, the head of Puerto Rico’s power authority, called Whitefish’s winning bid the “best decision” for the island because it required a much smaller advance than other companies had required.