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Four Senate Democrats held a press conference Tuesday to outline their five-point plan for ethics reform in 2008. Afterward, they were peppered with questions by members of the media about whether they were doing this to address the situation involving Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, and his relationship with the Connecticut State University System liaison.

Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, said “this has nothing to do with Senator Gaffey.” But at least one of the suggested ethics reforms would seem to address the Gaffey situation because it would examine restrictions on state officials who lobby legislators.

Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said in terms of the appearance of a conflict of interest highlighted by the Gaffey situation, “we all wish there had been greater disclosure,” however, there was “no illegality and no ethical violation.”

Sen. Gaffey and CSU liaison, Jill Ferraiolo, both worked this fall on CSU’s request for $1 billion in bond funds for construction projects. At the time they were working on the proposal they were in a relationship that was not disclosed until after the vote, but since there was no financial gain it was not a violation of state ethics laws. Still some members of the GOP are calling for an investigation.

Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said “I don’t think Senator Gaffey was responsible for a billion dollars in bonding,” but “if you’re trying to restore the public trust,” the timing of the press conference is bad.

Christine Stuart photo

Cafero said he’d like the opportunity to ask Senator Gaffey some questions, but realizes he may never get a chance if the Democrats don’t agree to appoint a panel, like the one appointed to investigate former Sen. Louis DeLuca, to investigate the situation. Democrats have said there’s no need to do this since no laws or ethics rules were broken.

Cafero said while the Republicans largely agree with most of the changes the Democrats were proposing Tuesday, the partisanship creeps in when it comes to “how does it get to the committee.” Cafero was referring to the Democrats proposal to create a bipartisan legislative ethics panel.

“That’s were it could become unfair,” Cafero opined.

Meyer said he’s been working on reforming the legislature’s ethics policies since he was elected in 2005. He said many of the proposals, including revoking pensions of corrupt officials, are not new ideas.

Neither is the idea of a legislative ethics committee. In a Sept. 13 press release Meyer outlined his idea for a committee.
“The Connecticut General Assembly does not have an adequate structure to deal with certain forms of misconduct by its own members, be they House or Senate members. That vacuum results in both an uncertainty of process and the loss of public confidence,” Meyer said in the press release. “To fill that void, I’m proposing the creation of a legislative Ethics Committee whose sole business would be to address accusations of ethical transgressions by its own members.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has determined that at least 24 states – including Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey – have ethics committees responsible for the investigation and enforcement of a legislators’ ethical conduct. Other, large states such as California, Ohio and Michigan also have legislative ethics committees, the NCSL has found. 

Meyer envisions a bipartisan committee that will write its own ethics code and have the power to issue subpoenas.

The five reforms proposed by Democrats Tuesday include ethics training for legislators and municipal officials, a code of conduct and criminal penalty for elected officials who fail to report a bribe, extending restrictions to state officials who lobby legislators, ability to revoke pensions of corrupt officials, and a permanent bipartisan legislative ethics committee.