Connecticut helps feed the lobbying machine in Washington

WASHINGTON–Whether despite the political dysfunction in Washington or because of it, Connecticut businesses, universities and non-profits are spending big to aggressively press their legislative priorities in the nation’s capital this year.

More than 100 Connecticut companies and other organizations currently have lobbyists in Washington, pushing Congress and the Executive Branch for a wide range of legislative and regulatory changes. The Connecticut entities have spent at least $34 million combined in the first half of the year, according to a review of lobbying reports.

It will come as no surprise that a huge slice of that advocacy tab–about $19 million–was shelled out by General Electric Co. and its subsidiaries. In addition to GE’s own team of 43 in-house lobbyists, the company has 22 outside firms, each with their own roster of hired guns.

But dozens of smaller Connecticut outlets-including a hydrogen manufacturing firm, a private college, and a well-know charitable foundation-also have advocates trying to pull the levers of power in Washington.

Some are trying to find new federal funding streams in a tight fiscal climate, others are vying for government contracts for a cutting-edge technologies. Some say they’re just trying to “educate” members of Congress about their company, others don’t want to talk about their lobbying efforts at all.

The state of Connecticut, for one, has spent $30,000 on a private lobbying firm, Clark & Weinstock, to push for increased submarine production and more infrastructure funding, among other things. So in addition to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s official Washington advocate, Dan DeSimone, the state has also five outside lobbyists, including former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, pressing the state’s case in D.C.

Juliet Manalan, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said hiring the outside firm is part of the governor’s campaign to ramp the state’s push for more federal dollars. “It’s no secret that Governor Malloy has been aggressive about improving Connecticut’s visibility in Washington, and changing the long-standing dynamic wherein Connecticut’s donor-state status leaves us wanting for federal dollars for important infrastructure projects,” Manalan said.  “The Governor will continue to ensure Connecticut is strongly represented in Washington, and that federal dollars are coming back to the state.”

Several Connecticut municipalities have lobbyists too-including the cities of New Haven, Bridgeport, and Stamford. And the city of Stratford recently hired Anne Fabry, a former aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, paying her $10,000 for the month of June. Fabry did not return a call for comment, but disclosure reports show she’s working on issues related to the Stratford Army Engine Plant, among other things.

Newman’s Own Foundation, the Farmington-based philanthropic arm of Paul Newman’s company, registered an in-house lobbyist and also hired one of Washington’s most politically-connected tax lobbying firms, Ernst & Young, earlier this year. The charitable outfit has spent about $120,000 so far in 2011, with its efforts narrowly targeted: proposed changes to “Section 4942 and 512(b)13 of Internal Revenue Code,” according to the organization’s lobbying reports.

A spokeswoman for the company declined to elaborate. “We don’t care to discuss that,” said Jan Schaefer, the communications director for Newman’s Own. “We’re a private foundation with limited staff, and we can’t accommodate your request at this time.”

In April, Stanley Black & Decker, the New Britain-based power tool company, also hired a D.C. lobbying firm to work on a very specific issue: wild and scenic river designation issues. And they tapped an ex- top White House official for the job-William Horn, the former assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the Department of the Interior. A  Stanley Black & Decker spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Others were more than happy to chat about their lobbying efforts. Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, for example, hired a Connecticut-based lobbying firm to seek out new funding opportunities at a time when congressional earmarks are banned and the federal budget is being tightened. Lobbying reports indicate the private college has paid less than $5,000 per quarter for the services of its Rocky Hill-based-lobbying firm, Kozak & Salina.

“With budgets with the way they are, you can’t rely on the standard formula of trying to garner funding,” Adam Salina said of his firm’s work for Saint Joseph. And because of the current ban on congressional earmarks, he said, “people are going to more creative ways to find out about those funding opportunities.”

So he’s trying to help Saint Joseph identify competitive grants that could steer federal money to the state. He said he’s also worked to ensure that Connecticut’s congressional delegation is aware of the school’s priorities.

Similarly, H2Sonics, a Wallingford-based hydrogen generating company, hired lobbyist Mark Kopec to explore opportunities for government contracts. Kopec said he’s arranged meetings with the delegation, as well as officials at the departments of defense and energy, to detail H2Sonics capabilities.

“I’ve been able to introduce them to people in Washington,” Kopec said. In meetings with the delegation, Kopec said, he and company officials promote H2Sonics as a small firm that has the potential to create new jobs in Connecticut. In meetings with DOD, he said, they promote a “cutting-edge” technology that could dramatically cut the military’s energy costs.

As for GE, the company staunchly defends its nearly $20 million lobbying tab for the first six months of 2011.

“GE is a large and diverse company with dozens of plants operating across the U.S, and with several significant businesses engaged each day with the U.S. government both as a supplier and as one who complies with government laws and regulations,” said spokesman Rick Kennedy.

Kennedy noted that this year’s battle over the alternate engine for the military’s JSF fighter plane, which pitted GE against United Technology Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney, bumped up the company’s advocacy spending. But, he noted, the firm has a wide range of other interests–“in the areas of health care, transportation, infrastructure policy, banking and finance, and environment policy, to name a few,” he said.

Whether all this money is well spent–by GE or any other other Connecticut interest–is another question all together. With Congress tied up in partisan knots and focused heavily on cutting, not increasing, the federal budget, it’s unclear how far any of these companies can get with their Washington wish-lists.

“It’s hard to get anything done at this point because everything’s focused on deficit reduction,” said Salina, the lobbyist for Saint Joseph College. “But we’re trying to move forward.”