Christine Stuart photo

An utility company executive who donated $1,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account in October introduced Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday morning at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

In introducing the governor, Rodney Powell, president and chief operating officer of Yankee Gas Services Company, was complimentary of Malloy and his energy strategy, which calls for the expansion of natural gas lines in the state.

Malloy joked that Powell and Middlesex Chamber of Commerce President Lawrence McHugh said so many nice things about him that “I thought I’d died and somebody was reading my obituary.” The remark elicited a chuckle from the audience.

But the Republican Party isn’t laughing.

“At this point, it should come as no surprise to anyone that another executive of a Northeast Utilities-owned, state-regulated utility has a cozy relationship with Gov. Malloy thanks to his donations to the Connecticut Democratic Party,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said.

Last week, the Courant reported that a top executive for Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Yankee Gas, asked about 50 of his managers to donate money to help re-elect Malloy next year.

“The next gubernatorial election cycle is upon us, and I am asking each of you to join me in financially supporting Connecticut’s Governor Dannel P. Malloy” in next year’s election, Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May said in an email The Courant obtained from a source.

Labriola called the donation to the federal account “a thinly veiled effort to circumvent the law.” There are limited uses for a donation to the federal party and as a state contractor, Northeast Utilities and its employees are prohibited from contributing to a state campaign.

Labriola called on Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Dinardo to give back the donations “to mitigate the appearances of impropriety and corruption.” Asked whether they planned to return the donations today, the state Democratic Party said they would not.

“The Connecticut Democratic Party follows all laws, rules and regulations for fundraising,” James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, said Tuesday.

But Labriola said that Tuesday’s events “offer even more evidence that Dan Malloy and his state government are for sale to the highest bidder.” The Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday was sponsored by Northeast Utilities, Connecticut Light & Power, and Yankee Gas Services.

This year, NU employees have contributed more than any other single group or company to the Connecticut Democratic Party. They have contributed about $51,500 for the party, according to campaign finance reports. Most of the donations came after May’s email to his managers soliciting contributions.

“I’m not a candidate for governor,” Malloy reminded reporters following his formal remarks at the event. “Who might, or who might not support me, or who supports Democratic causes, or who might not support Democratic causes are [questions] probably best directed toward them.”

But as governor, Malloy is the leader of the Democratic Party in the state and he’s been actively fundraising for it, including a trip to California in October.

“I will, do now and in the future, that which I’ve always done and that is to support Democratic causes,” Malloy said. “And quite frankly that’s what I’m doing. And the standard to apply is whether we are compliant with the law and we’ll hold ourselves to that standard.”

He maintained that he was not a candidate for governor and has not made a final decision on whether he will run for re-election.

“In the meantime, I’m going to support Democratic causes and make sure that those causes and those organizations live within the law,” Malloy told reporters.

His remarks came after a more than 20-minute speech where he reminded members of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce that when he took office the state was saddled with the “highest per capita deficit” in the country.

Thirty-fours months later, the state budget is balanced and the state is beginning to recover jobs. Pointing to a Labor Department report, Malloy said the state has recovered 67,000 private sector jobs since the start of the recession.

He said that before he became governor, the state invested in 119 companies. But because of changes the General Assembly made in October 2011 during a special session, his administration has been able to give assistance to about 1,400 companies, including more than 940 small businesses.

“When I’m doing this job I’m looking at the big issues and the long-term issues, and the short-term issues. How do we clean our air? How do we get cleaner energy? How do we get our universities to work together? How do we create a tool box for our economy?” Malloy said. “All of these things come together. This is all got to be part of a big package if we are going to move this state forward.”

Malloy acknowledged that his determination in improving the state doesn’t always coincide with the agendas of other people. Some of his policies have made him unpopular with the public according to the last Quinnipiac University poll.

The June poll found that 47 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing, while another 47 percent disapprove. The same poll showed one of his Republican opponents beating him by three points.

After rattling off what he believes are areas where the state has improved, Malloy said, “that’s why the opportunity to be governor for some period of time is too great an opportunity to waste. Sometimes people are critical of me. I’m a serious guy. I understand that. I don’t tell a good joke. I understand that.”

But he said “nobody has more hope and more expectations for the state of Connecticut and what we can do in the medium-term, and the long-term, than me.”