7:53 PM EDT, March 22, 2013
I would like to begin by saying at no point did Thomas Ritter do anything illegal.
Ritter has been working as a private attorney for the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. It is illegal for him to be a paid lobbyist for them, so any lobbying he did was done, he says, for free while he was being paid lots of money for other, more legal things. Ritter, former speaker of the House, also contacted current House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero about who Cafero should appoint to the CRRA board. Cafero is a partner in that Ritter law/lobbying firm, Brown Rudnick. He is also a legislative leader who appoints board members to the quasi-public agency that hires Brown Rudnick. This is not illegal.
In 2005, Cafero introduced a bill that gave $1.5 million to an aquarium in his district. The aquarium hired Ritter and Brown Rudnick to lobby for the bill. Cafero said the state Ethics Commission ruled it would be legal for Ritter to lobby him, his fellow law partner. He said that never happened, but it would have been legal.
In 1996, it was not illegal for Ritter, while still speaker, to be private attorney for American Ash Recycling, which won a contract from CRRA. At the time, the president of CRRA was William Darcy, who went golfing in Florida with Ritter and, a week later, told American Ash it had won the contract. While Ritter the attorney was negotiating the contract for American Ash, Ritter, the speaker, appointed his own chief of staff, Bernie Sullivan, to the board of the CRRA. This was not illegal. Ritter also called a DEP official to see if a special law would be needed to make the ash contract feasible. It was not clear whether the call was made by Ritter the speaker or Ritter the attorney. It was not illegal. That's clear.
It was not illegal in 1998 for Ritter the speaker to be pushing $375 million in public bonds for a pro football stadium while Ritter the attorney did legal work related to the stadium deal for CRRA.
It was not illegal in 1997, when Ritter the speaker was working on electricity deregulation, for several energy companies started by Ritter and/or his father to play roles in shaping that legislation. Hartford Courant reporter Mike McIntire found about 15 energy companies sharing the same address, all with ties to Independent Energy Corp., co-owned by Ritter's father George, once upon a time a powerful legislator in his own right. Ritter the speaker appointed the president of IEC, a company to which Ritter the attorney, had significant ties, to the deregulation task force shaping the legislation. This was not illegal.
It was not illegal in 1989 when the old Connecticut Bank and Trust removed Ritter's name from a real estate loan that was in default. Ritter had signed the loan with five other guys including his father. CBT released Ritter from the loan and kept the other five guys, who wound up getting sued for nonpayment. Banks usually like to have as many loan guarantors as they can get. CBT had no real explanation for letting Ritter go. He was House chairman of the Banks Committee at the time.
This was not illegal.
A lot of it seems like it should be, right?
And you can't blame Tom Ritter. He looked at the statutes and the rules and saw all the things that aren't illegal in Connecticut. He is by no means the only player in this game, but he is its Barry Bonds. He has hit the fiduciary equivalent of 762 home runs while on the fiduciary equivalent of steroids.
At the moment, Ritter's CRRA deals are being challenged by Matt Hennessey who, as the former Richelieu of the Eddie Perez administration, is an unlikely crusader for clean government. This is Alien vs. Predator. Hennessey doesn't want the pool hall shut down. He just wants his turn at the table.
What should we want? We should want more things to be illegal. We should want tighter laws and better oversight. The problem is these laws have to be passed by people who currently benefit from their absence.
How do you think that will work out?
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.
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