News Column

Lawmaker Looks to Redefine 'Conflict of Interest'

Mar 25 2013 10:00PM

Mary E. O'Leary

Expected Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley supports legislation that, as currently written, would disallow half of the lawmakers in office from serving because of their, or their families', connections to labor unions, state contractors or businesses that employ lobbyists.

One of those people is an expected opponent for the GOP nomination for governor, state House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, whose law firm, Brown Rudnick, has a lobbying component and is part of a civil suit, although Cafero does not work for that unit.

Prior to his testifying before the General Law and Accountability Committee, Foley said he did think Cafero had a conflict, as did former House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, when he served.

Foley would also disallow those who work for nonprofits, or their family members, where more than 5 percent of their revenues come from the state.

Cafero has said multiple times that he does not lobby for his firm.

"It stinks. ... I just want to get rid of the stench," Foley said of what he feels are conflicts.

The current state conflict of interest standard requires direct personal benefit.

Foley, who lost to Democrat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy by just more than 6,000 votes in 2010, used terms such as "sleazy practice," and "bribes" when referring to those who violate his definition of conflict of interest.

Foley immediately got a bipartisan blowback from members of the committee, who said the language was so "absurdly broad" that it eliminates, in state Rep. David Labriola's estimation, 500,000 to 1 million in the state from seeking office because it referred to any business that hires a lobbyist.

Labriola, a Republican from Naugatuck and the brother of Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola, said the proposed bill was "outrageous. ... It truly is absurd."

Foley did not mince words in his presentation.

"I am surprised that lobbyists are able to make a living here in Connecticut. Why would anyone hire a lobbyist when you can just put a legislator on the payroll?" he said.

"Part of the problem is that the foxes are running the henhouse. Our ethics rules start off as ethics light and then on appeal everyone is given a pass because people have a right to earn a living. That is the same argument you hear in a foreign country and the police demand a bribe with the excuse that they are not paid enough. That may be true, but it is still a bribe," Foley said.

Labriola said it was not helpful to use such "bombastic language."

Foley, a multimillionaire from Greenwich, said serving in the legislature is "a privilege, not a right."

The bill is seen as part of Republican infighting over who will get the nomination for governor in 2014, with Cafero already speaking against self-financed candidates.

The critics said as written, it would not allow the relative of a custodian working for a law firm that made more than 5 percent of its income lobbying the state legislature to run for office. They said many businesses and nonprofits, such as Yale University, have lobbyists and thus all their workers would be impacted.

Foley agreed that the language of the bill, which he put forward with state Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, needed to be reworked as he was referring to connections with companies whose main purpose is lobbying; state contractors; persons paid by unions where more than 5 percent are public employees.

He said this leaves 90 percent of the jobs in the state where there would not be a conflict.

"If you can't find a job with 90 to 95 percent of the jobs that are open here in Connecticut, are you really qualified to serve in the General Assembly?" he asked. "Get real here, please."

Foley suggested one solution was a full-time paid General Assembly.

The harshest criticism came from state Rep. Rose Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, who rebutted Foley's charges and told him if he sees conflicts he should bring them forward.

Rebimbas said she took Foley's allegations "personally, because quite frankly I don't appreciate being referred to as a hen in a henhouse. ... The Capitol is not a henhouse and I am not a hen."

Among the lawmakers potentially who could be affected under the Foley proposal are: state House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who is the education coordinator of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4; state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, who represents the Association of University Professors at Southern Connecticut State University, and state Sen. Toni Harp, who is director of homeless services for the Hill Health Center.



Source: (c) 2013 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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