Gov. Ned Lamont questioned the judgment of his opponent Bob Stefanowski on Friday, two days after the Republican acknowledged his consulting work on a project funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Stefanowski, a business consultant who specializes in mergers and acquisitions, has largely self-funded his rematch with Lamont and up until this week maintained that nondisclosure agreements prevented him from naming his clients.
However, faced with reporting this week by CT Insider, he confirmed his involvement with NEOM, a planned green energy city which is a backed by investments from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The disclosure of that link to the crown prince less than a month before voters head to the polls might complicate the race for Stefanowski, who has lagged by at least 10 percentage points in recent polling. Prince Mohammed faces litigation in the U.S. over allegations he ordered the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.
“I can see why somebody running for office would want to hide that from the public,” Lamont told reporters following a Breast Cancer Awareness Month event in Bloomfield. “Signing a deal with the Saudis right after the assassination of Khashoggi raises questions about judgment.”
The governor had around 48 hours to settle on a message regarding Stefanowski’s work in the Middle Eastern country. After CT Insider confirmed Stefanowski’s rumored work on the Saudi project, which had previously been reported by columnist Kevin Rennie on his Daily Ructions blog, Lamont surprised reporters by declining comment on the issue during a press availability.
In his own remarks Wednesday, Stefanowski shrugged off the suggestion of political blowback related to the project, which he said had the blessing of the Biden administration as well as investment from Ray Dalio, founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and an acquaintance of Lamont’s.
“I think Governor Lamont needs to be very, very careful here about not being hypocritical,” Stefanowski said Wednesday.
Asked Friday about Dalio’s involvement, Lamont said he suspected a number of American companies and individuals were involved in the NEOM project. Not all of them were running for public office while “still on the payroll,” Lamont said.
The governor noted his opponent seemed to be campaigning more or less full time in the final weeks of the race. During a remote press conference this week, Stefanowski told reporters his involvement in the Saudi project had been reduced.
“I’ve scaled it down significantly, but I do take calls occasionally,” Stefanowski said.
The news comes during a week of heightened strain in U.S. and Saudi relations. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy supported calls for freezing American military aid to Saudi Arabia as the Biden Administration has promised “consequences” for OPEC’s decision to cut oil production, a move that would benefit Russia in its ongoing war in Ukraine.
That timing was not lost on Lamont Friday nor were the various press conferences held this year by Stefanowski and other Republicans who objected to the price of gasoline.
“Standing next to pumps at the gas station and pointing out the high price of gasoline at the same time the Saudis are jacking up the high price of gasoline, that’s who’s paying you, that creates questions,” Lamont said. “It sounds like he’s getting paid by the Saudis at the same time he’s running for public office.”
Stefanowski’s work on the project is tied to the hydrogen plant being built for the smart city. His campaign did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. The candidate was traveling the state on a bus tour for much of the day. However, on Wednesday Stefanowksi said he felt good about the NEOM project, which he expected would “do more good for the world than any other project out there.”
“I have no bad feelings about being involved in this project whatsoever,” Stefanowski said. “This is a noble project that’s going to help reduce global warming and it’s a good thing.”