General Assembly staff exempt from disclosure rules

Gold Dome

CT Mirror

It was an obvious question after George Gallo abruptly resigned last week as the House Republicans’ chief of staff amid FBI inquiries into his political consulting business: Was he the only legislative aide in Hartford with a side business involving politics?

It is hard to know for sure. That information is not public.

Legislative employees are exempt from a law that requires about 2,500 other state employees, including state legislators, to annually disclose outside sources of income to the Office of State Ethics, a basic check against conflicts of interest imposed as a post-Watergate reform in 1977.

Nearly a week after the arrival of FBI agents bearing subpoenas at the Legislative Office Building, legislative leaders are not ready to say if new ethics rules are necessary for legislative employees, who have nearly quadrupled from 116 to 438 since the late 1970s.

No one disputes their influence or importance in the running of the modern Connecticut General Assembly. Top legislators say it might be time to cover them under financial disclosure rules, though none are ready to propose legislation at this point.

“Senior staff, I think, in the legislature have a significant role to play in the development of policy and the decisions that get made in the building,” said House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. “I think it’s not inappropriate for them to report potential financial interests to ensure they are not crossing any lines.”

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, who once barred a Senate Democratic staff member from operating a campaign consulting business, said he will await more information about the federal investigation before looking at new ethics rules.

Federal authorities are looking at Gallo’s business relationship with Direct Mail Systems of Clearwater, Fla., a contractor used by the Connecticut Republican Party and numerous legislative candidates.

Under current rules, Gallo was not required to disclose the clients of The Vinco Group, the consulting business he opened in 2003, four years before House Republicans hired him as their chief of staff and top political strategist.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., House Speaker J. Brendan  Sharkey and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr.

CT Mirror file photo

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said he’s aware of no ground rules given to Gallo about outside consulting, other than the general requirements of state law.

“I think each employee, if they are full-time, they are expected to devote their attention to their job,” Cafero said. “I guess that’s just a general rule in most work places.”

State law does not prohibit outside employment, but it sets general limits: “No public official or state employee may accept outside employment which will impair independence of judgment as to state duties…nor may such an individual use state position or confidential information acquired through state service to obtain personal financial gain.”

Legislative employees fall into two groups: partisan staff who are caucus employees and frequently staff campaigns on their own time; and nonpartisan staff, such as employees of the Office of Fiscal Analysis and Office of Legislative Research, who are barred from most political activities other than voting.

Like other senior partisan staff members in all four legislative caucuses, Gallo was involved in recruiting and advising candidates for legislative office, though not on legislative time or as part of his official legislative duties.

Maureen Magnan, the chief of staff for House Democrats, said partisan staff are not allowed to collect consulting fees for working on legislative races.

“If they want to consult on a municipal race in an off year, that is allowed,” she said.

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