Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Steal you blind, Connecticut

Connecticut State Sen. Thomas Gaffey

GOP Demands Probe
Questions State Senator's Ties With University System Official

By CHRISTOPHER KEATING | Capitol Bureau Chief
December 4, 2007

Top Republicans are calling for an investigation into Democratic state Sen. Thomas Gaffey's personal relationship with a high-ranking official of the state university system as Gaffey was pushing for a controversial $1 billion state bonding package for those schools.

The demands for a probe came Monday after a column in The Courant Sunday outlined a relationship between Gaffey, 48, of Meriden, and Jill Ferraiolo, 44, that was not disclosed publicly during the debate over one of the most expensive proposals in state history.

Ferraiolo is a state employee who serves as the associate vice chancellor for government relations and communications, but one of her chief tasks as a constant presence at the state Capitol is to lobby legislators on behalf of the Connecticut State University System.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said that the facts regarding Gaffey's relationship are "troubling and deserving of our attention" in the legislature.

"The state Senate needs to take this issue seriously," said McKinney, who intends to speak with Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, about the matter. "I had no knowledge of this relationship."

State Republican Party Chairman Christopher Healy and former Sen. Louis DeLuca both went a step further than McKinney and said that the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats, should conduct an investigation instead of simply dismissing the matter as a non-story.

"If this was a Republican senator, the Democrats would be calling for investigations up and down Main Street," Healy said. "Clearly, Sen. Gaffey did not disclose what reasonable people could classify as a conflict. It's just an awful way to conduct the state's business. This isn't some silly playscape that was snuck in at the last minute. This is $1 billion."

But Gaffey and Senate Democratic spokesman Derek Slap said that an attorney for the Office of State Ethics said there did not appear to be any conflict of interest because "there was absolutely no financial gain to the legislator, his family members or any associated business" from the relationship.

"Jill is a state employee. She is a public official," Gaffey said Monday. "State employees aren't lobbyists under the legal term of lobbyists."

Gaffey, who co-chairs the legislature's education committee and was one of the most vocal proponents of the CSU plan, said the complaints by Healy and DeLuca were "a partisan, political maneuver to deflect off DeLuca's admitted violation of law" and his subsequent resignation from the Senate.

"We've got people in the administration who are married to lobbyists. We have legislators who are married to lobbyists," Gaffey said. "I never thought I had to explain who I'm dating, particularly when she's not a lobbyist."

But McKinney said Ferraiolo and other legislative liaisons from state agencies are lobbyists, adding that the Senate should consider legislation that would "correct that loophole." The liaisons, for example, are permitted inside the House and Senate chambers during debates, but lobbyists hired by special interests are kept outside the chambers and behind ropes during debates.

McKinney described a meeting he had with Ferraiolo, another state liaison and Dr. David G. Carter Sr., chancellor of the CSU system, after Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bond package this year that included money for CSU. The meeting, McKinney said, was designed to push for the $1 billion proposal, which eventually was reduced to $950 million for 36 projects over 10 years at Central Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut, Western Connecticut and Southern Connecticut state universities. The project, called CSU 2020, is scheduled to start in 2009.

"Their reason for being there was to lobby me — no different as if [longtime Capitol lobbyist] Pat Sullivan were in my office with a client," McKinney said.

DeLuca was among the first to complain about the Gaffey situation through a letter, dated Monday, that called upon top senators to begin an investigation. DeLuca recently resigned from the state Senate after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of conspiring with Danbury trash magnate James Galante to threaten DeLuca's grandson-in-law, Mark Colella of Waterbury. DeLuca has complained that the Democrats did not investigate other legislators in the past who were involved in cases of drunken driving, child molestation and bribe-taking.

"By ignoring this and the previously mentioned serious incidents, I can only conclude that singling me out was discriminatory," DeLuca wrote. "Whether because of my age, ethnicity, political philosophy or political party, I still believe it to be discriminatory and selective. With a $1 billion price tag, it would be unconscionable to not give this allegation a serious and public review. Not investigating this matter would demonstrate that there are certain rules for some and different rules for others."

But Slap, the new Senate Democratic spokesman, quickly dismissed DeLuca's request.

"The Senate taking guidance from Mr. DeLuca on ethics would be like Dick Cheney teaching classes on hunting safety," Slap said.

Republicans had complained bitterly about the CSU proposal in September, when it was unveiled as part of the annual bonding package. The lawmakers said they were caught off-guard by the proposal, adding that one of the most expensive proposals in state history should have received more public scrutiny. Democrats countered that the proposal was detailed at a public hearing in February, but even longtime Capitol insiders said they had never heard of the CSU plan until September.

Gaffey said that trying to compare his efforts on behalf of CSU with DeLuca's admitted criminal conduct "is just ludicrous." Gaffey also sharply rejected a question by Healy on whether he accepted more than the annual lobbyist maximum of $100 in gifts or meals — such as bottles of wine or dinners — from Ferraiolo.

"I pay," Gaffey responded. "Maybe I'm old-fashioned."

The bonding package that included the CSU money was passed 35-0 in the Senate and 127-1 in the House before being signed by Rell.

"To suggest somehow," Gaffey said, "that I alone was able to push through $1 billion for the state university system is laughable."

Contact Chris Keating at CKeating@courant.com

Copyright © 2007, The Hartford Courant


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely doesn't look good for Mr. Gaffey....Never mind that Mrs. Ferraiolo was married at the time that the affair began...

Thu Jan 24, 11:32:00 AM 2008  

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