Former Republican nominee Tom Foley came to Hartford this week and said he wanted to rid the Capitol of perceived conflicts of interest, including one by House Republican leader Larry Cafero.
Foley was referring to a bitter lawsuit by the consulting firm of Hartford Democratic political operative Matthew J. Hennessy that charges that Cafero’s law firm, Brown Rudnick, has been engaged in illegal lobbying at the state Capitol on behalf of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority.
Cafero, a partner at the law firm, has strongly denied any wrongdoing, as has another law partner, former House Speaker and University of Connecticut board of trustees vice chairman Thomas D. Ritter. As House Republican leader, Cafero has authority to pick two members of the CRRA board. But he has said repeatedly that he avoids dealings with CRRA, adding that he has never even met one of his picks for the board – a Yale University graduate named Dot Kelly – after she came on the recommendation of another House Republican colleague.
When asked directly if Cafero has a conflict of interest, Foley gave the same answer twice. “Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely.”
But Cafero says he has had a clean record in 20 full years at the Capitol as he has recently started his 21st session.
“I’ve never had an ethics complaint brought against me,” Cafero told Capitol Watch. ”I have no cases against me, whether it’s for elections enforcement or ethics. I have ethical opinions on everything I have done. … I’ve never been accused of or involved in any ethical issues. I don’t understand that – other than politics. I don’t know if I should be flattered a year and a half before a gubernatorial election that this whole thing was about me.”
Despite the recent clash, Cafero says that Foley asked him to be his runningmate in 2010 and then again for the upcoming 2014 race.
“He ran for governor. He sought my support,” Cafero said. “He asked me if I would consider if I would be his runningmate. Why, all of a sudden does my employment bother Mr. Foley?”
During the bitter Republican primary in the summer of 2010, Cafero supported his longtime friend, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele. But as soon as Fedele lost, he joined in support of Foley against Democrat Dannel P. Malloy.
When asked how close they were if Foley wanted him to be his runningmate, Cafero responded, “He asked about 90 people. He asked if I was interested in that, and I told him I was not. He asked me as recently as the end of this year” for the 2014 race against Malloy.
Cafero says he remembers it clearly because it was New Year’s Eve of 2012, and the two met at a diner in Cafero’s hometown of Norwalk.
“It was December 31,” Cafero said. “I remember because he wanted to meet with me, and we met at Penny’s Diner in Norwalk, Connecticut.”
Foley’s testimony in Hartford this week turned into a huge controversy as House Republicans blasted him for a bill that they said was so far-reaching that about half of the legislators serving at the Capitol would need to resign.
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, House Republicans 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.
“What may have been intended for me or the governor’s wife was so far reaching and so poorly thought out that it affected maybe over 1 million people and their ability to run for office,” Cafero said Thursday. “That bill says if you are cutting the lawn for the Aetna, your spouse cannot be working for the state of Connecticut in any way, shape or form. This is how ridiculous it got. If any of the legislators who are serving right now has a son or daughter who gets a job with the Aetna or the Travelers or mopping the floors for Federal Express, that person would have to resign from the legislature. That’s how far-reaching this thing was.”
He added, “If the person in the cafeteria at the LOB falls in love with the person in the cafeteria at the Aetna headquarters, one of them has to quit their job under that bill. That’s what it says.”
Despite opposition to his testimony, Foley never backed down. He told reporters that the Capitol is “a big bubble [where] people tolerate corruption.”
“It’s a privilege to serve in the legislature. It is not a right,” Foley said. “If you can’t serve without conflicts of interest, you should not be serving. You shouldn’t be allowed to serve.”
He added, “I think the standard in Connecticut for the legislature – and this should be self-imposed, it shouldn’t be me, a citizen, coming arguing for this, the legislators should be imposing this on themselves – should be that there shouldn’t even be the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Foley told reporters. “That would be the standard in the judicial branch. … Even the appearance of a conflict should be disqualifying.”
Regarding what he believes are lax standards and hair-splitting of the definitions of conflicts, Foley said, “It’s a joke. It’s shameful.”