The National Republican Congressional Committee jumped in Monday on criticism by Connecticut Republicans of U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from people who work in, or lobby for, the energy and environment industry.
Esty’s husband, Dan Esty, regulates those industries in Connecticut as commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Ian Prior, a spokesman for the NRCC, noted Monday that late last month Elizabeth Esty had returned $3,500 in contributions she had received since 2011 from executives and lobbyists for Northeast Utilities — which had paid her husband $205,000 in consulting fees from 1997 to 2005, years before he became commissioner. Elizabeth Esty’s spokesman, Jeb Fain, said there was nothing wrong with the contributions, but she was returning them in the interest of ending the “unnecessary distraction” caused by the NRCC’s criticism.
However, Prior said, the congresswoman “refuses to answer” questions as to why she is keeping other contributions from people in the same regulated industries — amounting to at least $30,000, he said, citing a Courant Government Watch column this past weekend.
The Courant column said that some of the tens of thousands in contributions that the congresswoman received from around the country came from executives and lobbyists in Connecticut – either people whose energy firms are regulated by the state, or people who have registered to lobby Daniel Esty’s department.
Prior said in a statement Monday that Esty, the congresswoman, now “is embroiled in questions about contributions from companies that could be regulated by her husband Dan in his role as commissioner. … She already returned one contribution in the interest of ending an ‘unnecessary distraction,’ but has received thousands more from companies that could potentially have dealings with her husband and his agency.
“So what exactly is her reason for NOT returning the additional $30,000 in contributions from energy and environmental lobbyists and executives? Does she not see the perception issue this creates? Good questions – which she refuses to answer….
“Elizabeth Esty’s short term in Congress has been marked by a stunning lack of common sense and an inability to understand that she owes her constituents a duty to act with unquestionable integrity. Every day that Esty fails to address the ethical concerns caused by the additional $30,000 in contributions from the energy and environmental industries is another day that Esty’s integrity will be questioned and the bad press and ‘distracting’ efforts to hold her accountable will continue.”
Over the weekend, 5th District Republican candidate Mark Greenberg had criticized Esty, saying he had called on her in 2011 to return the money from the Northeast Utilities employees.
Joining in that criticism was state Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola, who said that “common sense would tell anyone that this ‘regulated by one half of the household, while donating to the other half’ is a very bad arrangement.”
Responding to the Republicans’ criticism over the weekend was Jonathan Harris, executive director for the state Democratic Party, who said, “Republicans in Connecticut have become like the Republicans in Washington; they have no ideas, so they spend all their time attacking and blocking.”
Esty’s spokesman, Fain, did not respond Monday to an email and phone message.