Executives from a Company that Provides Technological Services to the CEE Donated to their Favorite Candidates

The government commissioned Truenorth to handle data security projects and to design and develop the application for the technological equipment that holds the electronic electoral lists in the polling stations.

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The Electronic Poll Book applications, designed by Truenorth, were used In the June 2 primaries.

Photo by Carla Minet | Centro de Periodismo Investigativo

Executives of Truenorth Corporation, which holds $1.4 million in contracts to provide technology assistance to the State Elections Commission (CEE, in Spanish) this four-year term, supported their preferred candidates in the New Progressive Party (PNP) and Popular Democratic Party (PPD) primaries on June 2, contributing nearly $39,200 to their campaigns.

At least four partners and leading executives of Truenorth fattened Governor Pedro Pierluisi — who lost the primary — campaign fund and contributed $28,450 to his political committee, representing more than 70% of the donations they made in these four years. Another Truenorth partner donated $700 to Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz’s committee, who, after the primary, became the PPD’s official gubernatorial candidate.

While Truenorth’s founders and executives gave tens of thousands of dollars to the president of the PNP, their company ran the Fortinet platform, used in the CEE’s Information Systems and Electronic Processing Office’s (OSIPE, in Spanish) security systems, through a contract that was valid until June 30. The PNP holds administrative power within the CEE due to the new electoral law that was approved by that same party.

Truenorth also designed the digital application for the Electronic Poll Book (EPB), which replaces hard-copy electoral lists. The application was tested in a pilot plan in this year’s primaries, where Pierluisi lost to Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, and Rep. Ortiz won the primary over Sen. Juan Zaragoza.

Truenorth is a management and technology consulting firm with offices in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

The company’s technical staff must support the CEE during the November general elections, as indicated in the contract signed in September 2023. According to the Puerto Rico Office of the Comptroller’s Contract Registry, Truenorth has had $1,436,201 in contracts with the CEE during these four years.

On July 19, 2023, the then PNP Electoral Commissioner, Vanessa Santo Domingo Cruz, presented a motion before the full Commission for Truenorth to be awarded the Electronic Poll Book contract after the joint report from the Bid Board and the Board of Advisors on the three proposals presented for this service was read.

PPD Commissioner Karla Angleró González, and former Dignity Project party (PD) Commissioner Nelson Rosario Rodríguez agreed on contracting Truenorth, but the commissioner of the Citizen Victory Movement party (MVC), Lillian Aponte Dones, and the commissioner of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), Roberto Iván Aponte Berríos, disagreed.

According to the Certification of Disagreement-Resolution document, Aponte Dones’ vote was based on the fact that the company “did not have experience in the electoral field or the device” that it would implement, referring to the electronic tool to identify and register voter turnout. The PIP commissioner agreed with her.

The CPI requested reactions from Truenorth executives several times regarding the allegations that they have no experience handling this electoral technology. But there were no answers.

When the CPI asked about her disagreement with contracting Truenorth, Aponte Dones said she verified her notes from that meeting, and from the investigation she did before voting, she found that “this company has never developed a tool of this kind” and that it was not qualified to be entrusted with that project.

According to the CEE document, the now former PD commissioner said that, although he understood the concerns of the MVC commissioner, Truenorth was the only proponent that had complied with the bidding requirements and that, furthermore, the CEE did not have time to start another proposal evaluation and awarding process.

As there was no unanimity among the electoral commissioners, the alternate president of the CEE, Jessika Padilla Rivera, favored the PNP commissioner’s motion to award the contract to Truenorth.

Truenorth executives William Román Ubiñas, chief technology officer, Gabriel Fernández Ferrer, vice president, and Carlos Fernández Ferrer, president.

William Román Ubiñas, Truenorth’s chief technology officer, who signed two contracts and an amendment to an agreement between the company and the CEE during this four-year period, donated $11,400 to Pierluisi between 2022 and 2024. According to OCE donor data, his last donation was $3,000 on January 26, 2024.

That same day, company President Carlos Fernández Ferrer, who also signed one of the contracts awarded this term, donated another $3,000 to Pierluisi. He also donated $7,600 to Pierluisi’s committee in the last three years. The corporation’s deputy treasurer, Marcos Fejgielman Szeinfain, donated $5,300 between 2022 and 2023. One of the other top executives in the company, Dany Villafuerte Fuentes, contributed $4,150 to Pierluisi’s committee. The last one was as recent as April 2024.

PNP Bayamón Sen. Migdalia Padilla’s campaign committee also received $1,000 from Román Ubiñas and the PNP $300 from Fernández Ferrer.

Meanwhile, Truenorth’s Vice President, Gabriel Fernández Ferrer, has consistently donated to PPD candidates for several years. As recently as March 22, 2024, he donated $700 to Ortiz for his campaign to become the party’s gubernatorial candidate.

Fernández Ferrer donated $2,500 to the PPD on April 2. Last year, he donated to Senate President José Luis Dalmau and Villalba Mayor Javier Hernández Ortiz. Both were on the June 2 primary ballot as candidates for Senators at-large, and they won, so both will be on the legislative ballot on November 5.

The contract between Truenorth and the CEE to work with the EPBs points out in its introduction that the 2020 Puerto Rico Electoral Code conferred the Commission the mission of guaranteeing that “electoral processes and events are planned, organized and carried out with pureness and transparency” and “with no inclination to any group or sector or partisan ideological tendency.”

The CEE did not answer CPI’s questions about whether any regulations prohibit contractors who work directly with electoral data from making donations, showing favoritism, or supporting candidates in elections where these companies have access and some control over voter data.

The contract signed in September points out that the contractor pledges to abide by the Code of Ethics for Contractors, Suppliers, and Applicants for Economic Incentives of the Government of Puerto Rico and that received the Circular Letter titled Cultura Ética y de Valores de la CEE.

The aforementioned Code of Ethics includes a clause on Ethical Obligations and Responsibilities for contractors: “No one will intervene in matters that may lead to a conflict of interest or that have the appearance of being so.”

This code of ethics for contractors was included in the Anti-Corruption Code. The only thing it states about donations is that “no one will offer or give to a public servant or former public servant of the executive agencies […] with whom they are interested in establishing, or has established a contractual, commercial or financial relationship, directly or indirectly, any gift, goods of monetary value, contributions, gratuities, favors, services, donations, loans, or participation in any commercial entity or legal business.”

According to the document, each agency is responsible for developing regulations to address matters related to the Anti-Corruption Code. The agency is responsible for opening an investigation if there is any irregularity. After a “final resolution,” it must notify the Secretary of Justice if there are violations of the Code of Ethics. The agency must inform the Government Ethics Office if a public official is involved.

The PIP Electoral Commissioner said “it isn’t appropriate” for a contractor who works with this data to donate to the political campaigns of candidates for election.

“It creates a lot of distrust among the candidates and voters. The lists of each electoral college are run there [in the Electronic Poll Book],” said Aponte Berríos.

Meanwhile, Aponte Dones told the CPI that MVC was aware of Truenorth’s contract with other agencies and of the “gray areas” created by the financial contributions of certain company executives to candidates in the electoral race.

“Of course [the issue of donations and contracts is raised], because any threat against the process must be avoided. We must ensure that these [electoral] processes have no influence other than the will of the people,” she said.

Meanwhile, the PD’s Electoral Commissioner saw no conflict over donations by owners and executives of the company that works with the CEE’s electoral lists and computer security to the campaigns of candidates and political parties.

Truenorth Human Resources Director Laura Reyes told CPI that she was unaware that company executives had made political donations. She assured that “senior executives are not involved in the projects on a day-to-day basis.”

“The Electoral Law allows people, in their personal capacity, to donate. So, if they did it, I believe it must be within the legal framework, like everything we do in the company. They, as individuals, are a completely separate entity from the company,” said Reyes.

When asked if it seemed appropriate and ethical for company executives to support political candidates as they are hired to work with the electoral process that could benefit them, including running voter lists and the system’s security, Reyes just said, “In this company or any other there should be no correlation [between personal and professional interests]. As an individual, I am an individual, and my job is my job. And if you’re working within the legal framework, it should not affect this or any other company,” she said.

Through its legal director, Sarah Rodríguez, the OCE said there is no prohibition in Puerto Rico on owners or executives of government contractor companies donating to political candidates, even when they provide services to the CEE.

Legal entities, corporations and companies can donate if they create a segregated fund committee that must register and report to the OCE.

This structure allows company members, employees and their relatives to donate to a segregated fund committee, which can then make donations to candidates and parties for up to a maximum of $3,100 per year. Rodríguez said that, so far, no committee of this type has been registered in the OCE.

The OCE has presented multiple bills to ban government contractors from making political donations, but they have not been addressed in the Legislative Assembly. In the United States, federal government contractors are prohibited from making campaign donations.

Reporter Luis Valentín Ortiz contributed to this story.

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