Connecticut Democrats find generous donors among those doing business with state

Their game plan is secret, but the results are public: Solicitors for the Connecticut Democratic Party found generous donors among the ranks of state contractors in October, collecting $78,000 from five companies that did $67 million in business last year with the state.

The October numbers filed with the Federal Election Commission last week pushed contributions to the Democrats' federal account to $1.1 million in itemized individual contributions in 2013, with about 30 percent of money coming from contractors and others with a financial or regulatory interest in state government.

An analysis by The Mirror of the itemized individual contributions counted at least $150,000 coming from state contractors; $61,000 from beneficiaries of state aid; $55,000 from employees of a state-regulated utility; $32,000 from a nursing-home industry that relies heavily on Medicaid reimbursements; and $22,500 from lobbyists.

Party officials declined to say if they are combing through the lists of state contractors as they aggressively raise money to expand their political organization in preparation for 2014, when first-term Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and every other elected state officeholder are up for re-election.

"The Connecticut Democratic Party is actively raising money, and we’re doing so while abiding by all appropriate rules and regulations,” James Hallinan, a spokesman for the party, told The Mirror last week. “However, we don’t discuss our fundraising strategy."

Topping the list of donor-contractors in October were seven executives and one family member associated with the HAKS Group of New York City, a regional engineering firm that the Department of Transportation paid $6 million to last year and $22 million over the past four years. With individual donations ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, they gave the party $45,000 on Oct. 7.

Smaller contractors also wrote checks. Irving S. Goldblum and his wife, Marilyn, who live in the governor's hometown of Stamford, gave $16,000 last month, bringing their total for the year to $20,000, the maximum allowed by law. The Goldblums’ Standard Demolition company was paid $359,000 over the past two years for work at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Two executives at Manafort Brothers, a construction company that was paid $50 million last year for work on the Hartford-New Britain busway and other state transportation projects, contributed $14,000. James and Lauren Manafort each wrote checks for $5,000 on Oct. 9 and $2,000 on Halloween. Cory Garro, a civil engineer at Wethersfield-based Close Jensen & Miller, chipped in $2,000. His company billed the DOT for $6 million.

Malloy has not directly addressed whether he believes raising money from people who do business with the state, benefit from economic aid or work in regulated industries will create a perception of “pay to play,” a sense that the safest way to ensure state business or access at the State Capitol is to respond to fundraising appeals.

Instead, Malloy has said that he and his party will follow the law.

A 2005 law bars state contractors from donating directly to campaigns for state office, but a 2002 federal law allows them to give to state political parties, even if those donations indirectly benefit state candidates. Both parties maintain state and federal accounts, with the latter covering most operating expenses.

Malloy and other candidates particpating in the state's voluntary public financing system can accept contributions of no more than $100. But contributors to the state parties can give up to $10,000, and the parties can make unlimited expenditures to assist candidates for the General Assembly and other state offices, including governor.

In October, the state Democratic Party outraised the Connecticut Republican Party by nearly a 10-1 margin in itemized individual donations, $308,860 to $36,676. The October reports to the FEC only covered contributions to the federal accounts. Overall, Democrats collected $405,006 to the GOP's $61,744 for the month.

The party's quarterly state report, which will reflect the results of a fundraising trip Malloy made last month to California, is not due until January.

Sprinkled throughout the 700 itemized individual donations to the Democrats’ federal account in 2013 are checks written by executives of regulated industries, out-of-state developers whose projects are assisted by state financing, and architects, engineers, landlords and others who sell goods and services directly to the state.

Executives of nursing homes, most of which rely on the state to set Medicaid reimbursement rates, contributed $32,000, most in a flurry of checks written in September and October.

Adam Winstanley and Carter Winstanley of Concord, Mass., each gave $10,000 in August. They are principals in Winstanley Enterprises, the developer of Downtown Crossing in New Haven, whose anchor tenant, Alexion, was attracted to the project last year by a $51 million state aid package announced by Malloy.

Mark Summers of Sarasota, Fla., the project manager of Bridgeport Landing, a waterfront real-estate development in Bridgeport, gave $10,000 on Sept. 26, a day before the State Bond Commission approved $31 million in financing for Summers' anchor tenant, Bass Pro Shops. A principal in the project, Robert Christoph Sr. of Miami Beach, gave $1,000 a week earlier.

Anthony Gaglio Jr., a project manager for Viking Construction, wrote the party a $10,000 check in July. The previous July, Malloy posed with Gaglio and Gaglio's father at a groundbreaking of an affordable housing project that Viking is building in Darien wih partial financing through the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Brett Wilderman and Brandon Hall, the principals of Forstone, a real-estate investment company whose properties brought in $3 million in revenues from state agencies last year, each gave the Democrats $5,000 on Sept. 26.

Three members of the Simon Konover Co. gave a total of $21,000 in September and October. Konover, whose tenants include the offices of the state attorney general, treasurer and comptroller, was paid $5.4 million last year.

Paul Antinozzi, an architect who did nearly $500,000 in state work last year, gave $2,850 in September.

The HAKS employeees who contributed included its president and chief executive, Elliot G. Sander, the former CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and Franco Balassone, the executive vice president in charge of New England.

Biggest givers from NU

The biggest source of funds, however, were the executives of Northeast Utilities and its subsidiary, Connecticut Light & Power. They donated $17,000 in October, bringing their total for the year to $54,000. No one from United Illuminating, the state's second largest electric utility, contributed.

An immutable law of politics is that the pary of the governor enjoys a fundraising advantage. It was true when Republican John G. Rowland was governor for nine years, beginning in 1995. It was just as true when Democrat William A. O'Neill was governor during the 1980s.

The question always is the same: Do donors who do business with the state feel it unwise to refuse solicitations, especially if they provide professional services that are not solely determined by price? In 1982, Republican Lew Rome sharply noted during a debate with O’Neill that 19 of the 20 top donors to the Democratic Party also were Connecticut’s largest no-bid contractors.

“Just a coincidence?” Rome asked.

Back then, commissioners could solicit contributions from state contractors who did business with their departments. Now, commissioners and deputy commissioners are barred from fundraising.

Not everyone gives to the party, and it's impossible to know who is asked. No employee of the primary contractors on the DOT's largest project, the new Pearl Harbor Bridge that crosses New Haven Harbor, is listed among donors. No employee of the 10 corporations directly granted aid through Malloy's marquee aid programs, "First Five" and "Next Five," made more than a modest contribution, and most gave nothing.

Malloy has declined to discuss his approach to fundraising in any detail, saying at a press conference and brief remarks to The Mirror that his standard is what is required under the law. But in an interview a year ago, The Mirror pressed him on his fundraising on behalf of the Democratic Governors Association, which made $1.78 million in independent expenditures on his behalf in 2010 and is expected to spend even more in 2014.

“I am not soliciting people," he said then. "Basically, I am not soliciting people in the state and certainly am not solicitiing people who I'm having dealings with in the context of being governor. But there is a certain reality, these companies have given to the RGA, the NGA and the DGA. I'm certainly not asking for that to stop." He was referring to the Republican Governors Association, the National Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association.

At Malloy's behest, the DGA hired a friend, David Papandrea, at $5,000 a month In 2012 to raise money in Connecticut. The governor apparently placed no restrictions on Papandrea's being able to solicit companies who have received economic aid from the Malloy administration.

“I don’t think I told him yeah or nay. I've said I'm not doing it. I don’t know whether he aproached them," Malloy said.

A spokesman for CIgna, which was promised up to $71 million in aid as the first recipient under the First Five program, said Papandrea did seek a donation. Cigna, which has given to the DGA and the RGA for years, donated $100,000 to each in 2012.

Malloy was asked if there was a difference between his making a solicitation or Papandrea. Would a company be able to say no, if Papandrea was seen as representing Malloy?

“Sure, they can," Malloy replied. "I think it is significant I'm not making the ask.”

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