Following a well-trod path, former House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz is becoming a lobbyist, barred from lobbying his former colleagues for a year, but free to immediately seek business for his new employer, Gaffney Bennett & Associates.
Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin who was a long-time employee of the public-sector union AFSCME Council 4, said Friday he is joining Gaffney Bennett, a firm with a deep base of business clients that makes it the state’s largest lobbying entity.
After 16 years in the House and the last four as its top leader, Aresimowicz did not seek re-election last fall to the 30th District of Berlin and Southington, a district that had been growing increasingly hostile to Democrats. His term ended on Jan. 6.
At least three other former Connecticut speakers are now lobbyists: Thomas D. Ritter, Richard J. Balducci and James Amann. Speakers develop networks, nationally and in Connecticut, that can bring value to a lobbying firm beyond direct communication with lawmakers.
While barred from lobbying state government officials for a year by the state’s revolving-door law, it is legal to be a rainmaker for a lobbying firm during this period. He also can lobby municipal and congressional officials.
Last month, Aresimowicz asked the Office of State Ethics for guidance on that issue, among others. He specifically asked whether he could seek business for a lobbying firm and share in the income brought by the new business.
“The answer is yes … and the reason is this: you personally would not be communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any public official or his or her staff in the legislative or executive branch or in a quasi-public agency for the purpose of influencing any state legislative or administrative action,” replied Brian J. O’Dowd, general counsel of the ethics office.
Since leaving the General Assembly 22 years ago, Tom Ritter has overseen a government relations practice at Brown Rudnick. In Connecticut, he has worked primarily as a behind-the-scenes strategist for clients, leaving direct lobbying in Hartford to others.
“I will say that I have looked to Speaker Ritter’s success over the years, in many ways. And this particular decision was no exception,” Aresimowicz said.
Tom Ritter is the father of Matt Ritter, who succeeded Aresimowicz as speaker.
Gaffney Bennett is the state’s largest lobbying firm, as measured by clients and billings. It reported contracts worth $10 million for the 2019-2020 state legislative term, more than double any other firm, according to filings with the Office of State Ethics.
Interest groups spent nearly $90 million over the past two years on lobbying state government.
Gaffney’s managing partner, Jay F. Malcynsky, is a Republican who advised Lowell P. Weicker Jr. during his time in the U.S. Senate and John G. Rowland, the former governor. A senior partner, Steve Kinney was an aide to Chris Dodd. Another partner, Fritz Conway, is an old friend of Aresimowicz.
“This is a long- term move for us. This is not a short-term move,” Malcynsky said, though he added that Aresimowicz can help the firm immediately by meeting and strategizing with clients.
Aresimowicz said he knows the shift from union employee to a member of a business lobbying firm will be jarring to some. Gaffney’s clients include one of labor’s least favorite employers, Walmart. They have at least one labor client: the Operating Engineers.
Aresimowicz said he left the union for a variety of reasons, ranging from making way for a new generation of staff to the tensions his dual role as a House speaker and union employee had created at AFSCME.
“It was always in the back of my mind that at some point, I would move on,” said Aresimowicz, who was an AFSCME employee for six years before he was elected to the House in 2004.
In December 2016, the Office of State Ethics advised him that nothing in the state ethics code barred him from continuing his job as education coordinator with AFSCME, once he became speaker of the House of Representatives.
As a speaker and an AFSCME employee, Aresimowicz faced suspicions he was acting on behalf of labor and complaints from unions when he supported budgets and legislation opposed by labor.
He broke with AFSCME and other unions in 2016, supporting an austerity budget that required layoffs of state employees. That led to sharp public criticism by Sal Luciano, his boss at AFSCME, and opposition by some AFSCME members to his endorsement by the AFL-CIO.
More recently, he earned the enmity of police unions by voting for the passage of a police accountability bill.