Northeast Utilities, now facing scrutiny over its slow reconnection of storm-damaged power lines, has established a network of connections with Connecticut's political establishment, including Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and other officeholders who could affect investigations of the company.
NU's subsidiary, Connecticut Light & Power Co., was hit by a blast of criticism last week from Malloy, who brought in a national consultant to investigate the utility and said he'll be "holding everybody's feet to the fire on this." But such an action could end up warming the shoes of a few people who populate the same political circles as Malloy.
Coming months will reveal how well NU fares in several pending state and federal government investigations of its performance in the disastrous storms of Aug. 28 and Oct. 29. Before all of that plays out, it's worth looking at connections that show either NU's prominence in, and potential influence on, the political power structure.
NU's connections were downplayed in an interview Friday by Malloy's senior adviser and leading spokesman, Roy Occhiogrosso, who until last year was a partner in a consulting firm that does opinion-polling work for CL&P.
The utility's network of connections "hasn't prevented them from becoming the center of the storm. It hasn't prevented them form being criticized, reviewed and investigated," said Occhiogrosso. "I am hard-pressed to see how anyone can claim that that the company's connections are preventing anything from occurring now."
The connections are listed below in four categories: lobbying, representation on Malloy's 2010 transition team, consulting relationships and campaign contributions.
In addition to employing four lobbyists on its in-house corporate staff to influence Connecticut government officials and legislators during 2011, NU is paying a total of $704,000 to a cadre of politically connected lobbyists this year, records at the Office of State Ethics show.
NU's hired lobbyists (with anticipated 2011 compensation) include the firms of:
--Marc DiBella, son of former state Senate Majority Leader William A. DiBella, ($120,000).
--John Droney, former Democratic state party chairman, ($100,000).
--Anthony DeFilippis Jr., former chief of staff for state Senate Democrats ($72,000)
--Jay Malcynsky, a prominent Republican activist for years and top adviser to past governors ($250,000).
--Delores Malloy — no relation to the governor — a longtime voice at the Capitol for the utility company ($72,000).
--Kevin Reynolds, counsel to the state Democratic party ($50,000).
--John King, past president of the Hartford County Bar Association, who was named last week by New Britain Mayor-elect Tim O'Brien to serve as city attorney ($40,000).
NU's lobbying efforts don't stop at the Connecticut border, by the way. According to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, NU has spent $32,500 for legislative lobbying in Massachusetts this year. NU and Boston-based NStar are now seeking Bay State utility regulators' approval for a merger that would form New England's largest utility company.
After winning the 2010 election, Malloy appointed the NU system's top government-relations executive, Senior Vice President and General Counsel Gregory B. Butler of Glastonbury, as a member of his transition team to form his present administration. Butler, whose total 2010 compensation was listed by NU at more than $3.5 million, is in charge of the utility's lobbyists.
Butler's inclusion on Malloy's 22-member transition team was an interesting move. He is a Republican who served under President George W. Bush as a senior attorney-adviser in the Department of Justice, and was close to the GOP's 2010 gubernatorial nominee, Tom Foley. In fact, the day after the 2010 election, when a winner hadn't yet been declared in the Malloy-Foley contest, Foley announced that Butler would be one of the two co-chairman of his own transition team.
After Malloy won, he tapped Butler because he wanted his transition team to be "diverse and broad-based," said Occhiogrosso. "Greg Butler is a really nice guy, and might be the only person chosen … by two would-be governors in the same election. … He's a well-respected Republican [who would] bring a welcome perspective to the table."
Transition teams are part substance and part symbolism; they come up with policy positions and evaluate potential appointees in the two months between Election Day and the launch of a new gubernatorial administration.
"I was invited to serve on Governor Malloy's transition team, and was honored that he asked me to participate in that process. I believe greatly in public service," Butler said in an emailed reply to Courant questions on Friday. He is unrelated to CL&P president Jeffrey D. Butler, who became a familiar figure in recent news briefings about power restoration efforts.
Two consulting relationships are worth mentioning from recent years, the fresher involving Occhiogrosso, Malloy's senior adviser.
The same political and public-relations consulting firm — Global Strategy Group, based in New York with an office in Hartford — has done paid worked for NU, CL&P and Malloy's 2010 election campaign. For several years ending last December, Global's Hartford office was run by Occhiogrosso. Then, when Occhiogrosso quit to take his current job in the governor's office, Global hired an NU communications executive, Tanya Meck, to take his place in Hartford.
What significance is there in this interlock of personnel, politics, consultants and clients? According to Occhiogrosso, none.
"It doesn't mean anything," he said. "It's a big company in a small state — doesn't mean anything."
Occhiogrosso said that Global's polling research for CL&P has gone on for years, and was always handled out of the New York office. He said he started work at Global in 2003, and he believed that Malloy's dealings with Global went back beyond that, to when Malloy was Stamford's mayor.
Meck said that NU's current status as a client of Global is only about a year old, and began when she quit NU to replace Occhiogrosso. NU did not refill her position — in which she assisted Marie T. van Luling, NU's vice president in charge of communications, such as public relations and advertising — and instead had Meck continue assisting van Luling in her current consultant's role at Global.
Occhiogrosso and Meck are friends. Both worked in Democratic staff roles at the Capitol in past years — he for Senate Democrats, and she for House Democrats. Meck also served for a time as spokeswoman for former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz during the latter's unsuccessful attorney general campaign last year.
Asked if she gains any advantage for NU in dealing with the state as head of Global's Hartford office, Meck said: "I'm flattered that you asked that question. But I can tell you that that is not my role."
One other consulting relationship involving NU and a Malloy administration figure already has made news in 2011: In the past two months, The Courant disclosed that Malloy's appointee as head of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Daniel Esty, was paid $205,000 by NU as a consultant from 1997 to 2005.
Also, earlier this year, four NU executives gave a total of $2,000 to the 5th Congressional District campaign of Esty's wife, Democrat Elizabeth Esty, public records show.
Esty's department includes the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which has launched an investigation of its own into CL&P's handling of storm-related problems.
He has said in the past that his past consulting work for the company will not impair his ability to handle NU-related matters, and that he did not solicit the contributions that NU made to his wife.
NU's political action committee, along with Butler and other NU executives, have been contributed tens of thousands of dollars in recent years to the campaigns of congressional candidates in Connecticut and other states.
For example, NU's PAC contributed $5,000 earlier this year to 5th District U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy's 2012 campaign for Connecticut's Democratic U.S. Senate nomination after giving him $6,000 for his 2008 House campaign and $10,000 for his 2010 House effort.
It's also given $19,000 to 2nd District U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney's campaigns since 2008, $4,000 to 3rd District Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro in that same period, $11,500 to 4th District Congressman Jim Himes, and $7,000 to 1st District U.S. Rep. John Larson.
Those PAC totals are exclusive of many thousands more in donations from individual NU employees.
Officeholders who receive donations invariably insist that the money doesn't affect their actions. On Nov. 4, four of Connecticut's five U.S. House members — all except Larson — and the state's two U.S. senators asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate CL&P and NU over their performance during and after the Oct. 29 snowstorm.
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.