A Connecticut legislator works for a nonprofit organization that is largely funded by the state, receiving more than $540,000 in the last three years.
Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, runs Long Island Soundkeeper, an organization he helped start two decades ago.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection gave Soundkeeper an average of $180,000 a year since 2010, according to the state’s transparency website.
Backer’s 2009 salary of $106,707 amounted to more than half of Soundkeeper’s total revenue. In 2010, he earned $108,629 as Soundkeeper’s executive director.
A member of both the energy and technology and the environment committees, Backer also receives between $37,000 and $40,000 for serving in the legislature.
Soundkeeper is an environmental nonprofit, founded in 1987. It is one of more than 90 organizations that remove raw sewage from boats to avoid leaking or dumping into the Sound.
The nonprofit’s state contributions increased by 150 percent between 2010 and 2011. In those years, funding jumped from about $83,000 to more than $200,000. Soundkeeper’s state funding in 2011 accounted for more than 50 percent of the organization’s revenue; it made $385,136 and received $207,096 from the state.
Backer spokesman Joe Gresko said that the state does not fund Soundkeeper, but rather “acts as a conduit for Federal Fish and Wildlife funds.”
“Rep. Backer was approached by the DEP years ago to begin a vessel pump out program, which is federally subsidized,” he said.
Through the federal Clean Vessel Act of 1992, the state provides money for the operation and maintenance of sewage pump out stations. Funding for the program comes from the Sport Fishing and Boating Trust Fund, which is supported by excise taxes on fishing and boating equipment and boat fuels, according to a June press release from DEEP.
A total of 47 percent of the pump out programs are Clean Vessel Act funded.
Soundkeeper received $147,262 through the CVA for its four pump out vessels for the 2013 boating season. Only one other group – Coastal Environmental Services – was awarded more money for the pump out program.
Backer recently celebrated his 25th year as the Long Island Soundkeeper. Previously, he was a lobsterman and oysterman and “saw first-hand the devastation happening to Long Island Sound,” said Gresko. This “motivated him into creating the Soundkeeper model, which has been copied in various waterways world-wide.”
Gresko said the representative was unavailable for comment last week due to a “medical test.”
In a 2008 financial disclosure filed to the Office of State Ethics, Backer reported that he, his wife and a child all received income from the nonprofit environmental group. The group’s tax return says he was paid $108,869, but did not list salaries for his wife and child.
Later disclosures don’t list any relatives working at Soundkeeper. Backer’s salary was not listed on the organization’s 2011 IRS form, but he cited Soundkeeper as a source of income in all disclosures up to 2012.
The group’s 2012 tax information was not available.
Monika Anton, who is listed as Backer’s wife in the 2008 and 2009 disclosures, is listed on Soundkeeper’s website as the organization’s administrative assistant.
Last year, Backer was fined $500 by Office of State Ethics in connection with his Soundkeeper role. OSE determined that Backer signing and sending documents to DEEP on behalf of Soundkeeper qualified as a prohibited “appearance” before the department.
Jordan Otero is a summer 2013 Yankee Institute journalism intern. She is a senior studying journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She lives in Southington.