First to raise issues about Brown Rudnick's representation of the CRRA was Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, who wrote on March 3 that Ritter, in recent years, also has worked under a CRRA contract as its "municipal liaison." That work paid $84,000 a year, for a multiyear total of at least $250,000. Rennie said the liaison arrangement "dodges the ban" on quasi-public agencies hiring lobbyists.
Rennie also wrote that emails show Ritter has been in contact with another Brown Rudnick lawyer, House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, about prospective appointees to the CRRA board, even though Cafero has said through the years that he has no knowledge of Brown Rudnick's government-relations function.
Cafero last week told The Courant's Capitol bureau chief, Christopher Keating, that "I'm tired of saying it, but I have absolutely nothing to do with any matter of any client that has dealings with the state."
The legislature enacted the ban on quasi-public agencies hiring lobbyists after the 2002 scandal over the CRRA's disastrous financial deal with Enron, the energy giant whose sudden collapse shocked the nation. Lawmakers believed that the CRRA's management at the time had run amok, and talked of reining in its power and influence. CRRA has new management and a new board now.
Asked about the recent issues that have arisen about Brown Rudnick and CRRA, including the emails that have emerged, Carol Carson, the Office of State Ethics' director, said she cannot, by law, comment on whether her agency will look into the situation.
Ritter's most recent written inquiry with the ethics office came this past Dec. 19, when he said discussions with CRRA officials had made it "clear that the next few months are very important to their long-term survival" — because of the depressed prices in which they sell the electricity that they generate from burning trash. Ritter said the CRRA officials "would be interacting with numerous state officials" and "it occurred to me that on a short-term basis I could best serve CRRA as a pro-bono [free of charge] lobbyist."
Ritter said the "municipal liaison" contract has expired, although Brown Rudnick continues to serve CRRA under its lucrative long-term legal representation arrangement.
The ethics office's deputy general counsel, Brian O'Dowd, responded Jan. 4, telling Ritter that it would be OK, "provided that you do not receive or agree to receive ... any compensation and/or reimbursement from CRRA for your lobbying activities" — because without payment, "CRRA will not be retaining a 'Lobbyist,' as is prohibited."
But O'Dowd said there might be a violation of an ethics law "if your lobbying activity on CRRA's behalf would impact whether or not CRRA survives, and, by implication, whether or not Brown Rudnick would continue to be retained by CRRA."
Ritter said Friday that, based on that latter advice, "I have not" lobbied on the pro bono basis he outlined, "and I will not."
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at email@example.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.