COLUMN

Cafero, Ritter Dealings Benefit CRRA Officials

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and Democratic former Speaker of the House Thomas Ritter have blurred the lines between Cafero's public office and the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, a client of the law firm where they are partners.

Cafero has the power to appoint two members of CRRA's 11-member board and appears to have let his choices be influenced by the authority's executives. Ritter, who has a dubious government relations contract with CRRA, acted as a go-between, according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Cafero is a partner in the Hartford office of Brown Rudnick. He is a salaried employee "with the possibility of an annual bonus," according to a 2006 state ethics agency opinion. Ritter heads the firm's lobbying and government relations office. Previously, Cafero claimed he never knew the clients of the firm's lobbyists. No more.

Brown Rudnick is allowed to lobby him, and it takes advantage of Connecticut's lax rules on legislators and their relationships with businesses.

Since 2007, CRRA, a quasi-public agency that collects trash from cities and towns, has paid Brown Rudnick more than $2.8 million in government relations and legal fees.

As a public entity, CRRA is prohibited from hiring an outside lobbyist to represent it in the halls of government. It dodges this ban by giving Ritter and Brown Rudnick a contract as a "municipal liaison." The work that Ritter does, however, includes contact with Cafero, which is critical to the fortunes of the handful of people who run CRRA, according to agency documents.

Cafero said last week he was not aware of that contract, only that Ritter does legal work for CRRA. According to CRRA, Ritter advises on environmental, energy, real estate and solid waste matters, not governance of the organization.

So eager is CRRA to have Ritter doing its government relations work, that when his contract was expiring in 2007, CRRA head Tom Kirk sent Ritter an email saying that they would "have to go through the motions of Committee approval and Board Approval" to renew the $7,000 a month deal. A few days later, Kirk told Ritter in an email, "I found that we will need to issue an RFP for the contract. I think this is a good idea that will help us defend the choice."

Kirk denied in a message on Friday that the fix was in for Ritter. He says all proper procedures were followed in issuing the contract to Ritter.

It is a source of wonder that Kirk includes at the bottom of his emails the observation from Heraclitus, "A Man's Character is his Fate." Kirk should remember that when arranging a contract. CRRA continues to renew Ritter's contract, though in 2012 one CRRA executive told him "it's important that your team be a little more visible (or audible as the case may be) in municipal matters."

The municipal leaders of the towns served by CRRA can be argumentative. Some rebel and, worse, ask hard questions. That's why Cafero's appointments to the board are of interest to CRRA management. In one message Cafero allows Ritter to share with CRRA the news of a board appointment before it's made public.

Ritter contacted Kirk in 2011 when Cafero was preparing to make a board appointment. On behalf of Cafero, Ritter asked for information on eligible prospects. CRRA provided it to Ritter to give to Cafero, along with highlighted names of people CRRA thought were good choices. Cafero picked a highlighted choice.

How could he not? It's in everyone's interest to keep peace as the money flows.

Ritter last week declined to address the specifics of his contact with Cafero over the board appointment. Through a Needham, Mass., public relations firm, he said, "At all times, Brown Rudnick and its lawyers have acted strictly in accordance with all prevailing legal, ethical and regulatory requirements."

The municipal liaison contract provides cover and compensation for Ritter's unregistered lobbying for CRRA. Cafero is complicit in the fiction. Every day that the Ritter-Cafero axis continues, the integrity of state government is diminished. Many who have witnessed this squalid alliance have been quiet for too long.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.

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