Tom Foley is not giving up.
Despite facing a huge buzzsaw of opposition over his bill on conflicts of interest, the former Republican gubernatorial nominee is pushing ahead to resurrect the measure before the session ends on June 5.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Foley announced that 11 legislators – 9 Democrats and 2 Republicans – have conflicts of interest because they either work for a lobbying firm, a public employee’s union or a state contractor. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Markley of Southington, is designed to prevent those conflicts.
Foley declined to name the 11 lawmakers, but confirmed that one of them is House Republican leader Larry Cafero, a longtime real estate attorney who works as a partner for the lobbying and law firm of Brown Rudnick. Foley has said that Cafero “absolutely” has a conflict of interest by working for a firm that currently lobbies the legislature. Separately, Brown Rudnick is at the center of an ongoing civil lawsuit by the consulting firm of Hartford Democratic political operative Matthew J. Hennessy against the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, the influential regional garbage agency. Hennessy charges in the lawsuit that Brown Rudnick had been the pre-determined winner of a consulting contract and that the firm has been engaged in illegal lobbying at the state Capitol.
But Foley told reporters Tuesday that the issue is bigger than Cafero.
“I’ve known Larry Cafero for a long time,” Foley said. “I think he’s served honorably in the House. He’s a friend. This legislation is not about trying to capture or single out certain individuals. It’s an attempt to target practices that, I think in today’s environment, most people consider unacceptable. Anybody who would currently run afoul of the law has the option of not taking the income or leaving the legislature.”
Foley, who won 128 of the state’s 169 cities and towns before losing to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy in the 2010 race for governor, says he is running again. He could be facing Cafero, Senate GOP leader John McKinney, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton in a potential Republican primary in August 2014.
Cafero is a “contract-income partner” at the firm, but not an equity partner who shares in the overall profits of the firm. He has repeatedly said that he has received written ethics rulings about precisely what he can and cannot do at Brown Rudnick. He has denied any wrongdoing and said he knows nothing about illegal lobbying by Brown Rudnick.
The civil lawsuit is an anti-trust action against CRRA. Cafero, former House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter and Brown Rudnick are not named as defendants or parties to the case, which arose when Hennessy failed to win a consulting contract as a “municipal services liaison” that was held by Brown Rudnick. There were only firm’s vying for the contract - with Brown Rudnick as the low bidder and Hennessy’s firm as the high bidder.
Foley was roundly criticized during his testimony in favor of the bill by legislators who said that the measure was too broad. They said it would impact as many as half of all legislators, forcing them to choose between their jobs and potentially leaving the legislature.
But Foley said Tuesday that his bill would directly impact only 11 legislators – five who receive money from state contractors, four who are paid employees of public-worker unions, and two who work for lobbying firms.
During the hearing in March, Foley was blasted harshly by three House Republicans who disagreed with the wording of Senate bill 727. Foley said the conflicts were “sleazy” and added that the ”foxes are running the henhouse” at the Capitol, which did not sit well with some legislators.
One of those protesting loudest against Foley’s testimony at a committee hearing was Rep. David Labriola, the brother of the state Republican Party chairman. Labriola and other Republicans protested that the bill was so broadly written that it would cover large numbers of employees who work at some of the largest corporations in Connecticut. Several legislators said it was so broad that it would affect half of all state legislators – potentially forcing them out of office.
“It’s absurdly broad. It’s outrageous,” Labriola told Foley at the hearing. ”It’s actually going to cover everybody – like 1 million people. … It truly is absurd. That’s my major point.”
Labriola, who is known for being low-key in the legislature, added, “It’s not appreciated or helpful to throw around words like sleazy. … I get there’s an election coming up. I don’t think it’s helpful to use that kind of bombastic language.”
The bill, as written, states that “no public official, state employee or member of the immediate family of a public official or state employee shall receive one thousand dollars or more during a calendar year” from major state contractors or a business that employs lobbyists, among others.
That language, Labriola said, would cover any legislator who has a brother, sister, parents, or children who work for places like FedEx, Yale University or Aetna insurance, which all have lobbyists at the Capitol.
While several legislators said the wording was clear, Foley said that was never the intent of the legislation. He emphasized at Tuesday’s news conference that the bill would have no impact on state legislators who work for FedEx or whose spouses work for Yale University.
Foley pledged to rid the Capitol of conflicts of interest.
“Let’s clean this up,” Foley said Tuesday. “It’s not that hard. And it’s the right thing to do.”