Tom Foley testified Monday before the legislature’s good government committee calling the laws governing conflicts of interest in state government “absurd,” saying the “foxes are guarding the hen house.” The hour-long testimony offended lawmakers in his own party.
Foley is the former Republican gubernatorial candidate who lost a close election in 2010 to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, but he has been positioning himself for a 2014 rematch. The head of a private equity firm, Foley’s testimony Monday was an opportunity to demonstrate his continued interest in public office.
He testified at a Government Administration and Elections Committee public hearing in support of a bill that would make it illegal for a lawmaker or a member of their immediate family to be paid more than $1,000 from an employer that benefits from state funding. That would include lobbying firms, contractors, and state employee unions.
Foley said it was absurd that someone whose employer is a union or a firm that lobbies at the Capitol can also serve as a lawmaker in the state’s part-time legislature.
“In most states and Washington D.C. a legislator could go to jail for what is regularly done and perfectly legal here in Connecticut. That’s because what is regularly done around our Capitol is considered a bribe in most places,” he said.
During his testimony, Foley made reference to the governor’s wife, Cathy Malloy, who is CEO of the Greater Hartford Arts Council. The council is an organization that receives state grants. He also seemed to hint that there is impropriety in the role of House Republican leader Larry Cafero, who is a partner at the law firm of Brown Rudnick. The firm lobbies the legislature. Cafero likely will challenge Foley for the GOP nomination in next year’s gubernatorial race.
“When people hear about people being partners in law firms that lobby, and they’re paid a full-time salary and they’re serving here in the legislature, they’re disgusted. They find it reviling and everybody here thinks it’s okay and it’s not,” Foley said. “. . . Don’t permit the conflicts of interests and the sleaziness that exists here.”
For more than an hour, lawmakers questioned Foley on the intent of the bill, which they said would make criminals out of half the state’s lawmakers. They also questioned the language he used to support it.
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said she took Foley’s allegations personally.
“I don’t appreciate being referred to as a hen in a ‘henhouse,’” she said. “The Capitol is not a henhouse and I am not a hen. These are statements that are much too easy not to only be said but put in writing and they are demeaning and it is disgraceful to lump all of us in that category.”
Rep. David Labriola, an Oxford Republican whose brother Jerry Labriola Jr. serves as the state party chairman, agreed.
“I think it’s a disservice. It’s not appreciated or helpful to throw around language like ‘sleazy’ and ‘the foxes are running the henhouse,’” he said. “. . . I get there’s an election coming up. I get that. But I really don’t think that it’s helpful to use that kind of bombastic language.”
Labriola and Rebimbas both said the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, would impact far more people than Foley articulated.
“You said this bill might capture a few people it wasn’t intended to. It’s actually going to cover everybody. It’s going to cover like a million people. It’s ridiculous how many people,” Labriola said.
Rebimbas said the bill was so “overreaching” that any lawmaker with a family member working as a janitor at a law firm might have a conflict of interest. She said that as a lawyer she sometimes represents indigent people who can’t afford an attorney. She said she is paid by the state for those services.
“I’m proud of that and I’m also proud of my colleagues who are able to recuse themselves,” she said. “. . . That we would not be able to determine what is a conflict of interest is personally offensive.”
Given an opportunity to respond, Foley said that if lawmakers have an income from employers with an interest in public policy, and the pay affects their votes, the income constitutes a bribe.
Foley expressed surprise at the resistance he was receiving from lawmakers on the committee.
“I am pretty shocked to be here today and have people saying to me that if someone is on the payroll of a public employees union and they’re serving in the General Assembly, that you think ‘Well, that’s a manageable conflict’ or ‘They’ll recuse themselves,’ when that’s ridiculous to the average citizen of this state,” he said.
Foley said he would be open to looking at the specific language of the legislation, but he said its only intent was try to remove conflicts that “would not be tolerated for three minutes” in the business sector or the Judicial Branch of government.
“I simply don’t understand it. I don’t understand how you can sit here and think what’s going on is okay,” he said.
Connecticut has a part-time legislature so almost all lawmakers maintain other employment.