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EDITORIAL

CRRA Lawsuit Shines Light On Murky World Of Influence

Legal, schmegal . . . appearances count

4:13 PM EDT, March 15, 2013

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Matthew J. Hennessy's lawsuit against the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority plays a useful role in calling attention to questionable relationships within the murky world of insider influence peddling.

Call it the angry response of a disappointed job seeker — for that's what it is — but Mr. Hennessy's lawsuit raises important issues. Hopefully it will lead to some sort of clarity.

THE LAWSUIT

The CRRA is a quasi-public garbage-to-energy agency serving a number of towns in the Hartford region. It has a history of administrative malfunction and financial shenanigans. Under state law, it is forbidden from hiring a lobbyist.

Mr. Hennessy — once the top aide to convicted former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez — heads Tremont Public Advisors, a consulting firm.

Tremont filed suit recently against the CRRA, The Courant has reported, charging favoritism in the agency's awarding of a contract for "municipal government liaison" services worth more than $250,000 to Brown Rudnick, a law and lobbying firm that employs the highly influential former Democratic House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter.

Mr. Ritter does much of his firm's work for CRRA.

Tremont was one of two bidders on renewal of the municipal liaison contract that Brown Rudnick had held since 2006. Tremont claims that CRRA engaged in a sham bidding process.

It also accuses Brown Rudnick of illegally lobbying for the CRRA, based in part on information gathered from e-mails to and from Mr. Ritter requested by Mr. Hennessy under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

State House Minority Leader Larry Cafero also works for Brown Rudnick, Mr. Ritter's firm. Because of his leadership position in the legislature, he can choose two members of the quasi-public CRRA board — which can decide who wins contracts. The emails show that Mr. Ritter has discussed board appointments with Mr. Cafero and other top legislators.

An exasperated Mr. Cafero said of the appointment power, "That is my total involvement with CRRA. I don't know about a suit. I don't know about a contract. I don't know the price of it. I don't know what it's for. I don't know what they do. I've never worked on a matter concerning CRRA. Period."

Yes, but he can appoint two CRRA directors.

INCESTUOUS MIX

The CRRA, Brown Rudnick, Mr. Ritter (through a public relations firm) and Mr. Cafero all deny the allegations in the Tremont lawsuit.

Mr. Cafero, as a top legislative leader, clearly should not appoint members of the board of directors of an agency represented by the law and lobbying firm he works for. He should recuse himself to avoid a conflict of interest.

About lobbying: Perhaps the General Assembly — if it dares — should define what it considers to be lobbying in greater detail and then, if needs be, draw brighter lines proscribing lobbying by quasi-public agencies.

Mr. Ritter insists that what he did for CRRA was legal work, not lobbying. But others emphatically disagree. And it's hard to see the difference.

This, in microcosm, is life in the public sector at the point where big decisions are made — an incestuous mix of lawyers, lobbyists, politicians and compliant special interests. And there are many more relationships like it at the state Capitol.

Time to put a specimen under the microscope?

Editor's note: This editorial was updated March 15 with new information.