Tuesday, January 31, 2017

TrainRIders NorthEast goes “Pro.”


TrainRiders Northeast (TRNE), the 501(c)3 ‘non-profit’ organization without whom the Downeaster would not exist (they humbly assert), has been around a long time.  We’ve mentioned them, and their leader, Wayne Davis, scads of times over the years our journal has been published.

Further, we’ve called them a wholly owned subsidiary of NNEPRA, and lobbyists for them to boot.  We’ve used that latter term in testimony before legislative committees, and had their attorney turn to look at us from the podium and specifically deny it, as he testified against specific legislation, which pretty much defines lobbying.

Best we knew in past years, the organization was mostly volunteer, raising very little funding, and paying only a modest sum to Davis for his leadership.  In the absence of substantial compensation, Davis has been treated as a Saint of passenger rail by NNEPRA, various legislators and other officials, and an adoring and obsequious public.

Now comes word that the organization is ‘going pro,’ having hired their first “Executive Director.”  Here’s the related press release.



A note or two on this roll-out.  First, the reference above to O’Keefe’s start in the transportation policy field as a ‘freelance writer for railroad.net’ seems a bit underwhelming.  When we surfed on over to that web-page, we found the newest content was dated  2013.  So one could surmise that the operation is, for all intents and purposes, defunct.  No matter; he’s since been “helping NNEPRA build partnerships.”  We’re limited in our knowledge of the details, but until we hear otherwise, we’re assuming this means distributing free tickets to the ‘variety of community groups,’ about which we’ve posted in past years.

While we don’t know what this will mean for TRNE’s non-profit status, it seems pretty clear they can no longer tout themselves as a volunteer organization, and that serious fund raising will have to become a larger part of their work.  Perhaps they can gain some funding from those they support, like NNEPRA and Amtrak.  And maybe even shake some loose from an obscure line item or two in State accounts.  Lord knows there are all sorts of non-profits sucking off various public teats, and we expect the young new ED to prioritize making sure his paychecks get issued.

We did take the trouble to seek out TRNE’s form 990s, which they’re required to file with the IRS in order to maintain their 501(c)3 non-profit status.  The latest one we found was for 2014, which makes us wonder if they’re bordering on being delinquent for their 2015 return, which should have been submitted early in 2016.  As you’ll see, their submission is not paritcularly complicated, so we don’t see complexity and oodles of supporting data as rationale for any extension.

Anyway, you can find the 2014 form here: https://www.scribd.com/document/338056016/TRNE-2014-990

Here are the highligths, such as they are:


The big numbers, we must say, catch us by surprise.  $165,000 in contributions, grants, and gifts is no small number for these circumstances, and $142,000 in assets at the end of the year leaves them pretty flush as well, which may be what led to the plan to hire an ED.  That’s growth in assets of $125,000 during the year.


Wouldn’t you just know it; they finally admit to engaging in lobbying activities.


Then, just when you thought there was nothing else to see here, up pops an “unusual grant 2014, $125,000.”  That seems like a real curiosity to us, but try as we might, we couldn’t find any details on who the grant was from, nor any requirement that they provide that info.  All they had to do is declare it ‘unusual,’ which it is, we think you’d agree.


Once again, admission of lobbying, even though the amounts are small and rounded.  Still, they admit to doing so.

And as we all know, there’s lobbying, and then there’s lobbying.  We know for a fact that TRNE has told the Governor’s Office that it’s their role to nominate candidates for the NNEPRA Board of Directors, not the Governor’s, regardless of what statute says.

We don’t recall that the yiddish word chutzpah actually includes ‘lobbying’ it it’s definition, but maybe it should?  Shouldn’t it?


Now all we want to know is when the lovely ladies of AAB will decide they’ll need a handsome young Executive Director to guide their advocacy efforts, and help them find some ‘unusual grants.’  Or perhaps someone with career experience as an Ambassador would fit the bill, especially one who rides the train multiple times a week.

No comments:

Post a Comment