(Updated 7 a.m.) At least one of the four candidates believes the race for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District may hinge on the findings of a federal grand jury investigation.
Candidate Mark Greenberg said the federal grand jury — reportedly investigating former Gov. John G. Rowland’s consulting relationship with Lisa Wilson-Foley’s husband at the same time as he was volunteering for the Simsbury Republican’s campaign — may decide the Aug. 14 primary. Wilson Foley is one of the three candidates against whom Greenberg is competing in the closely watched contest.
Rowland, who is a talk show host for WTIC radio in Hartford, received $30,000 in consulting fees from Apple Rehab, a nursing home company owned by Brian Foley. The contract, which expired in March, coincided with Rowland’s work as an unpaid volunteer for Wilson-Foley’s campaign. According to news reports, the grand jury is investigating possible connections between Rowland’s business and political pursuits that may have violated federal campaign finance laws. But it’s unclear exactly what the grand jury may be looking at since there has been no indictment and no arrest.
“If she loses votes, I don’t know where her votes are going,” Greenberg said during a recent interview. “The composition of the campaign and who picks up votes relates to what continues with the issues regarding” Wilson-Foley’s campaign.
Greenberg, a wealthy Litchfield real estate developer, said that he declined a similar offer from Rowland two years ago when he was making his first bid for the seat in the 5th District. He said the former governor, who once held the seat, wanted to work on his campaign, but wanted the payments to be made through the animal rescue shelter that Greenberg and his wife, Linda, operate.
Rowland left office in 2004 and went to prison a year later after pleading guilty to a corruption charge of selling his office for vacations and free work on his lakefront cottage in Bantam.
Wilson-Foley, who ran for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor two years ago, has called the current grand jury investigation a “distraction.”
Greenberg criticized her response last month in a news release.
“Lisa Wilson-Foley has greatly underestimated the people of the Fifth District, and I believe she misjudges them if she thinks they don’t want their candidates to play by the rules,” he said.
Wilson-Foley’s campaign manager, Chris Syrek, dismissed Greenberg’s most recent criticisms.
“This issue is all politics and stems from a political attack by a former opponent,” he said in an emailed statement. “Both Lisa’s campaign and her husband’s company have done everything within the scope of the law. The truth and the facts are on our side and we are moving on with the campaign.”
“The 5th District voters that Lisa is talking to and meeting everyday are concerned about jobs, our struggling economy, and the massive federal debt that is being placed on the backs of their children and grandchildren,” he added.
Wilson-Foley told reporters on The Real Story that her husband has given the federal grand jury all the documents and work product related to their inquiry.
In late May, Democratic-endorsed candidate Chris Donovan’s former campaign finance director, Robert Braddock Jr., was charged with trying to conceal $20,000 in campaign contributions in an attempt to influence legislation before the General Assembly. Braddock’s attorney has said his client is innocent.
Greenberg repeated his call last week for Donovan to suspend his campaign after former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy’s internal investigation was released.
Twardy said there was “no evidence” that Donovan had knowledge of those contributions. However, Greenberg noted that Twardy said the report was “incomplete” since he was unable to interview some of the key figures.
“Nothing in the internal investigation diminishes the fact that speaker knew or should have known of the illegal activity in his campaign,” Greenberg said.
He said the federal investigation into Donovan’s operation “is having an adverse effect on Lisa’s campaign. She’s involved in the same issues. In his case, I think it’s more serious.”
“It’s not a silent issue anymore,” Greenberg said. He said voters have been discussing the investigation of Rowland with him and his campaign volunteers as they have canvassed neighborhoods over the recent days.
Roxbury First Selectman Barbara Henry, who had been a campaign co-chairman for Wilson-Foley, announced last week that she had switched her support to state Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, the convention-endorsed nominee.
Sherman Republican Town Committee Chairman George Linkletter said at a Greenberg meet-and-greet in Brookfield last week that although he supported Wilson-Foley at the convention, he might change his allegiance to one of the other three candidates.
“The thing that people are angry about is that they don’t trust congressmen,” Greenberg said. “I want to change that.”
He said he again plans to self-fund at least 75 percent of the costs through the primary. He spent $1.37 million of his own money in 2010. This year, he’s already topped that amount by giving his campaign nearly $1.5 million, according to the Register Citizen.
“From this last quarter, you’re going to see that [the fundraising figures] were abysmal from people other than me,” Greenberg said. “I don’t like [making] fundraising calls. I’ve given it up. It’s somewhat embarrassing to ask regular people to make a commitment to me instead of three other [candidates] when the economy is lousy and they can’t afford to go on vacation or put gas in their car.”
In the Federal Elections Commission disclosure form that he filed last year, Greenberg reported having $63.7 million to $261 million in assets and $27 million to $57 million in liabilities, which were largely reflecting the taxes that would have to be paid if he sold his shopping centers in Connecticut and residential condos in New York City.
Through the most recent reporting period, he had given his campaign nearly $1.5 million. All except about $3,000 in donations were made by Greenberg himself.
The other Republican candidate is Justin Bernier of Plainville, who placed second in the 2010 primary behind then-state Sen. Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy of Cheshire, who is the endorsed candidate in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.
This marks the first time the seat has been open since 1990, when Rowland made an unsuccessful bid for governor.
Greenberg, who was not nominated at the convention two years ago, said he surprised Republicans by taking 29 percent of the vote in the three-way primary. He said that showing has made him a stronger candidate in his second run.
“This is 180 degrees from 2010,” he said. “We have a much bigger base of volunteers and paid staff. We have a tremendous door-to-door presence.”
“After he lost in 2010, a lot of people thought he would take his ball and go home,” Bill Evans Jr. of Wolcott, Greenberg’s deputy campaign manager, said. “But he went out and helped Tom Foley and a lot of the other candidates. It has made a difference.”
Ron Wilcox of Newtown, the Connecticut coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said Greenberg also has become a better campaigner.
“In 2010 he was a little rough around the edges, but he has evolved into a better candidate,” he said. “His media communication is excellent. His public speaking has improved dramatically.”
The campaign is focusing on the 28,000 to 30,000 Republicans that will likely turn out for the primary.
“We’re trying to turn out 12,000 votes,” Evans said of the upper end of the campaign’s estimate of the support that will be needed to win in the four-way race.
Greenberg said he already has several billboards and large signs posted through the district and will air more commercials on cable television than he did in 2010.
He again has solid backing from the Tea Party.
Wilcox said 80 percent of his members support Greenberg.
“He’s the most consistent person out there,” he added.
Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Peter Lumaj of Fairfield, another Tea Party favorite, endorsed Greenberg last week.
“He’s not telling the Republican town committees what they want to hear, he’s telling them the truth,” he said of Greenberg’s commitment to limited government.
Greenberg said over the recent days “people have come out of the woodwork” to volunteer for his campaign after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote to uphold President Obama’s health care reform. Greenberg wants the plan repealed.
“This run for Congress is more important than ever,” he said. “We do not want to be in the image of Europe. We do not want to be Socialists.”
He said voters “are very nervous about it because they don’t know what is in it. I don’t think that anybody will know what’s in store with Obamacare until it is in full effect.”
Greenberg said “running neck and neck” in importance with voters is the slow economic recovery.
He said the Bush tax cuts and Social Security payroll tax cuts have failed to fuel a robust recovery, but should still be extended beyond this year to provide “stability and reliability” while the tax code is reformed.
Greenberg said too many people are exempt from paying federal income taxes and that an elimination of the loopholes could balance the budget in “5 to 10 years.”