Political Insider's Lobbying Arrangement Questioned

Fairpay has entered the workers' comp arena in recent years by calculating what a hospital's actual costs are and telling them what they'll be paid in behalf of an employer — an alternative to long-term negotiating arrangements that hospitals have had with major insurers. Often Fairpay says an insurer should pay less than half what the hospital wants.

Lawyers for the hospitals note that the lobbying registration forms that were filed with the Office of State Ethics say that Wright could lobby the Workers' Compensation Commission, and executive-branch offices including that of the governor.

But Wright said he's only talked to legislators to provide suggested language for the bill.

The hospitals' lawyers still object. "The … situation is clearly improper," said Mark A. Dubois, an attorney who once served as chief disciplinary counsel for lawyers. "The idea that a litigant or interested party, with matters pending before the Workers' Compensation Review Board and at the legislature, could pay money to the Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Workers' Compensation Commission to lobby the Commission, the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor — individuals and entities which … have the power to affect public policy relating to the very issues in dispute — is so beyond the pale as to hardly bear commenting upon."

Dubois made the comments in an April 15 letter he was retained to write to Robert Tobin, a partner at the New London firm representing the hospitals.

So far the issue has not appeared to hit the Office of State Ethics' radar screen.

In 2000, Mastropietro asked the ethics office whether it would be OK for Wright, already chairman of the advisory board at that time, to also serve as a paid consultant to the Workers' Compensation agency. The answer was yes, according to documents provided to The Courant last week by the state's current ethics director, Carol Carson.

According to a 2000 legal opinion from the ethics office — which then had a different leadership structure — the consulting arrangement was all right because "Mr. Wright is not a public official" subject to the state's ethics code; advisory board members are "specifically exempt" from being considered public officials, the opinion said.

Carson said there's no record that Wright asked her office's advice about his current lobbying arrangement. Wright, himself, told The Courant he did not believe he needed to seek such advice — after disclosing it to Mastropietro and advisory board members, and hearing no objection.

Wright is the father of current Rep. Chris Wright, D-Bristol.

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.

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