Jackson Laboratory has invited the state’s lawmakers to visit its headquarters in Bar Harbor, Maine for an informational weekend program in October during the peak of the fall foliage season.
Mike Hyde, Jackson’s vice president for external affairs and strategic partnerships, said that lawmakers, who are invited to bring a guest, would need to pay their own travel expenses for the planned trip between Thursday, Oct. 17 and Saturday, Oct. 19. The laboratory hopes to host at least one dinner for its guests and plans to reserve a block of hotel rooms at a discounted rate.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Hyde said Jackson Laboratory will work with the Office of State Ethics to make sure everything complies with the state’s ethics rules.
According to emails provided by the Office of State Ethics, Hyde reached out for advice on the proposed trip on Aug. 9. Because JAX is a registered lobbyist in Connecticut, it is considered a “restricted donor” and restrictions on gifts to elected officials apply. The lab may offer lawmakers meals, but the total cost of food given to them must not exceed $50.
“We have to stay within whatever spending limitations the ethics commission gives us. If it’s a problem, they’ll have to pay for their own dinners,” Hyde said.
In 2011, the legislature approved a plan to borrow $291 million to help the Maine-based Jackson Laboratory construct a research lab on the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington. The deal calls for the lab to create and retain 300 jobs by its 10th year in operation.
In his invitation, Hyde said that many lawmakers have asked about the laboratory. He said the trip would provide them with a better understanding of the lab’s science and its mission. He said the program should include a day of “in-depth tours,” demonstrations, and a reception.
“I am imagining that participants and spouses or significant others would travel to Bar Harbor on Thursday, October 17. There would be an opening reception and dinner that evening,” he wrote.
Hyde thanked lawmakers for supporting the Farmington lab, where construction began last October.
“We are deeply grateful to the State of Connecticut and to the legislature for your investment in our project in Farmington,” he wrote.
The JAX proposal anticipates a tour of its facilities beginning Friday morning, followed by a briefing from the lab’s senior management on its goals, including the work that will be done in Farmington and other facilities.
After that lawmakers would have the chance to ask questions of the facility’s top scientists on their work in personalized medicine. The session is to be followed by a dinner.
“Legislators would see firsthand how JAX is Leading the Search for Tomorrow’s Cures. Our program would conclude with a dinner on Friday evening,” Hyde wrote.
The dinner is expected to mark the end of the the program Jackson Laboratory has planned. Hyde said lawmakers could return home on Saturday, but he invited them to enjoy the area through the weekend on their own dime.
Hyde wrote that visitors could “stay on through the weekend and enjoy the spectacular sights of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park in the height of the fall color season. Naturally, participating legislators would have to cover their own expenses for this trip.”
Hyde said the lab could help to arrange discounted hotel rooms and facilitate arrangements in Bar Harbor.
Legislative ethics officers from both parties also have sought advice from the Ethics Office in advance of the trip, looking to make sure the arrangements complied with regulations.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause in Connecticut, said Jackson Laboratory already has a vested interest in the state given the $291 million in bonding it’s been given.
“My understanding is that Jackson Laboratory is a registered lobbyist in Connecticut. As such they are required to report any spending they do on legislators beyond what can facilitate work in the state — staying beyond the two day tour in Bar Harbor for leaf peeping for example,” she said.
According to the Ethics Office, the lab will be responsible for giving lawmakers an itemized report of their expenses within 10 days and reporting any expenses that are not reimbursed.
“If the public officials wish to avoid appearing on the Jackson Laboratory’s next lobbyist report, they must reimburse the value of the meals within thirty days,” Cynthia Isales, a lawyer for the Ethics Office, told Hyde in an email.
On Wednesday, Hyde said the lab’s final plans for the weekend will depend upon how many lawmakers chose to attend. He said this week’s invite was an effort to test the waters to see how much interest there was among legislators in making the six or seven hour drive up to Bar Harbor. He said he hopes more than a few decide to make the trip.
“We thought it would be a good thing for them to come take a look at Jackson Laboratory, for people to come up and see ‘the mother-ship,’ as it were,” he said.