Top aide to CT House GOP quits as feds investigate campaign mailings

George Gallo, center, watching Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. announce he would not run for governor.

CT Mirror

George Gallo, center, watching Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. announce he would not run for governor. At left is former Rep. Brian Flaherty.

George Gallo, the chief of staff to the House Republicans in the General Assembly, resigned Thursday as FBI agents questioned legislators and reviewed records relating to campaign mailings he oversaw as the caucus’ political strategist.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, confirmed the FBI investigation and announced the departure of Gallo, a prominent political operative who managed Gov. John G. Rowland’s campaign in 2002 and was state party chairman from 2005 to 2007.

Sources said the inquiry focuses on Gallo’s relationship with Direct Mail Systems of Clearwater, Fla., a provider of direct mail and fundraising services with a national base of commercial and political clients. Its clients include the Connecticut Republican Party and numerous legislative candidates.

Cafero said Gallo informed him he was a “person of interest” in the investigation and was resigning. Gallo could not be reached and his attorney, Hubert Santos, declined comment.

“Yesterday the FBI came to the LOB [Legislative Office Building] to interview various members of our caucus relating to an inquiry into campaign vendor mailings. In addition, subpoenas were served on the House Republican Office, the House Republican Campaign Committee and the Office of Legislative Management,” Cafero said in an emailed statement.

The start of the investigation was first reported Wednesday by Kevin Rennie, a former Republican legislator who writes a weekly column for The Courant, in his blog, Daily Ructions.

As the political strategist for the caucus, Gallo was in a position to recommend services to Republican candidates, including direct mail vendors. Gallo maintained the political consulting business he formed in 2003, The Vinco Group, while he was chief of staff.

Direct Mail Systems has done more than $700,000 in business with the state Republican Party since 2004, according to the Washington watchdog group, Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2006 campaign cycle, when Gallo was state chairman, the party paid the company $424,395.

It remains a contractor to the state GOP, but a spokesman for the party said the FBI has not questioned officials there about its contracts. “We’re not involved at all,” said Zak Sanders, a spokesman.

All four caucuses have political operations based at the State Capitol, each with a senior staffer who coordinates political messaging, candidate recruitment and other assistance. Legislative staffs are barred from using state materials and offices for political activities, but it is common for staffers to take leaves to work on campaigns.

Cafero, who hired Gallo as his chief of staff in 2006 as Gallo was preparing to step down as state chairman under Gov. M. Jodi Rell, declined to comment beyond a prepared statement.

“Our caucus is cooperating fully with the federal inquiry into House Republican activities,” he said. “Federal officials have also asked that we refrain from divulging details of the investigation to the public and press, to the extent that we become aware of them.”

Cafero said the subpoenas, which The Mirror and other news organizations have requested, will be released, though he did not say when.

“The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Legislative Management Committee also met today and have agreed to comply fully with all relevant federal and state statutes as well as requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act with respect to the subpoenas,” he said.

Cafero, who is personally close to Gallo, described his departure as a resignation, saying Gallo “indicated that he did not want to cause unwarranted distractions to the caucus that would take away from their legislative duties. For that reason, and for personal family considerations, he tendered his resignation and it was accepted, effective at midnight tonight.”

The “personal family considerations” appears to be a reference to a serious illness in his family.

“George has served [the] House Republican caucus honorably and with the highest level of professional standards since 2007,” Cafero said. “He will be missed.”

 

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