Republican Congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley said this morning that she is staying on message, despite a federal criminal investigation into former Gov. John G. Rowland
‘s consulting work for the health care company owned by her husband, Brian Foley.
“We’re campaigning as usual,” Wilson-Foley said. “I’ve been hitting a lot of doors.”
“Is this a distraction? Sure,” she said. “But I believe the truth and the facts are on our side. Our campaign is not involved in this investigation. We are moving forward.”
Wilson-Foley is one of four Republicans and three Democrats seeking the open 5th Congressional district seat, which is currently held by Democrat Chris Murphy. Murphy, who is not seeking reelection, is running for the U.S. Senate.
A grand jury in New Haven has been gathering information about possible connections “between Rowland’s ostensible business and political pursuits,” according to Kevin Rennie, who broke the story yesterday on his blog, Daily Ructions
. Rowland was paid $5,000 a month as a consultant to Apple Rehab while he also was working as a volunteer for Wilson-Foley’s campaign. Rowland, now an afternoon radio talk-show host on WTIC-AM, has had previous experience with a U.S. grand jury: He resigned as governor in mid-2004, then pleaded guilty to corruption and spent 10 months in prison as the result of a federal grand jury probe. The inquiry into Rowland’s role isn’t the only investigation pending in the 5th District.
Late last month, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI arrested Robert Braddock Jr., campaign finance director for Democrat Chris Donovan, the convention-endorsed candidate in the party primary. Donovan quickly fired his campaign manager and another staffer.
Wilson-Foley said most of the voters she’s talked to aren’t interested in talking about investigations of either Democrats or Republican, or the details of a complaint to the Federal Election Commission by one of her now former Republican opponents in this race, Mike Clark. The complaint alleges two potential violations of campaign finance laws. “First, there may have been a violation by the Wilson-Foley campaign in failing to report as contributions…the payments made by Apple Rehab to John Rowland for services that may have benefited the campaign,” the complaint states.
Under federal election laws, anything of value given to influence a campaign is considered a contribution. Also any payments by Apple Rehab to Rowland for campaign-related activities – lobbying delegates to the state Republican convention, for example — would constitute a violation of election law.
The complaint notes that Rowland is not listed as an employee, consultant or vendor in any of Wilson-Foley’s campaign finance filings.
Wilson-Foley said voters have other issues on their minds.
“People don’t care about the nitty-gritty of politics,” she said. “They care that their kids came home from college and can’t get jobs…I am not hearing about the inside scoop…[with] Donovan’s campaign or anything with this investigation. My opponents will use it as a distraction but I’m moving forward with my campaign.”
Professor Gary Rose, chairman of the department of government and politics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, disagrees. “I think it matters a lot, irrespective of any arrest or indictment or anything, the fact that the word that there is an investigation and that Rowland is involved, I think, casts a pretty dark cloud over her campaign,” he said.
“Since most voters in the fifth district don’t know much about her to begin with, what they do know about her is pretty negative and controversial,” Rose said.
Rose said he thinks the Republicans in the state will step up pressure on Wilson-Foley to drop out in an effort to unite the party behind state Sen. Andrew Roraback — even though Wilson-Foley had a decent showing at the convention.
“The Republicans really do feel they have a rich opportunity to take back this district and the last thing they need is a controversy of their own,” he said.
On Monday, Roraback, another 5th District candidate, called on Wilson-Foley to “answer any and all questions” in connection with Rowland’s role.
“I’m not hiding,” Wilson-Foley said. She said she attended several events Monday, including a fundraiser for the Petit Family Foundation and a campaign meet and greet at Apricots restaurant in Farmington.
But she also suggested her opponents are highlighting the issue to score political points. In addition to Roraback, Republicans Justin Bernier and Mark Greenberg are also seeking the seat. Greenberg has said that Rowland approached him in the previous 5th District campaign – in which Greenberg unsuccessfully sought the GOP’s 2010 nomination – and told Greenberg that he would help him if he could be paid as a consultant to Greenberg’s nonprofit animal-rescue organization, the Simon Foundation.
Greenberg confirmed Monday afternoon that federal authorities had requested information and that he had provided it, said his campaign spokesman, Chris Cooper
. Cooper also said Greenberg is “not in any way a target of the investigation.”
Asked if she regrets using Rowland as a campaign volunteer, Wilson-Foley said no. “Hindsight is 20/20, but I’m not looking back on this,” she said.
“I think John Rowland is a wonderful man,” she said. “I believe in second chances. Everyone has his own cross to bear, but I’m not going to speak about whether he has a role” to play in Connecticut politics.
Courant Staff Writer Wes Duplantier contributed to this report.