Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday he was frustrated last fall when he suggested, wrongly, that Annie Lamont, a successful venture capitalist, preferred investing in Tennessee over Connecticut due to the political and potential ethical complications inherent in doing business in a state led by her husband.
“Unfortunately, that’s it for Connecticut companies,” Lamont said on Nov. 30, responding to criticism that his wife’s firm, Oak HC/FT, had early investments in two companies that later did business with the state. “Annie’s in Nashville setting up companies there, because Connecticut’s pretty complicated.”
In a brief interview Monday, Lamont dismissed that quote as an “offhand comment.”
Whether offhand or not, the remark went uncorrected for seven months and now is the basis for a video from Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski that paints the Democratic incumbent as a hypocrite for recently urging businesses that support abortion rights to consider Connecticut as a new home.
“Ned Lamont wants businesses to move to Connecticut because of our abortion laws. But where does Lamont’s family set up its new business?” a narrator asks in Stefanowski’s video. “In Nashville, Tenn., where a new law will prosecute doctors who perform abortions and jail women who get them.”
In between the question and the answer is the clip of Lamont talking about Nashville being a less complicated place for his wife to do business.
Lamont said Monday he was frustrated in November by Stefanowski’s suggestion the governor had a conflict arising from Oak HC/FT’s investment in Sema4, a company that did COVID-19 testing for the state, and in Digital Currency Group, a financial technology company that moved to Stamford with state assistance.
“We just had six weeks of him attacking my wife and my wife’s company. So I made that offhand comment in that context,” Lamont said.
Pressed several times, Lamont said his wife was not setting up a new business when he spoke last November.
Oak HC/FT did make an investment years ago in Aspire Health of Nashville, a company acquired by Anthem. A Democratic source said Annie Lamont may have had a client meeting relating to the investment last fall, putting Nashville top of mind for the governor.
There is no evidence, as claimed in the ad, that “Lamont’s family set up its new business” in Nashville. Asked for a source supporting the assertion, Liz Kurantowicz of the Stefanowski campaign simply pointed at Lamont: “The quote from the governor. The governor in his own words.”
In other words, if the spot is wrong, it is the product of an unforced error by the governor.
The assertions in Stefanowski’s campaign may be problematic. But so is Lamont’s reluctance to talk about Oak HC/FT and his imprecise description of what his wife does: Oak HC/FT invests in companies, often at crucial junctures that can bring them to life — but it does not create them, as he implied in November.
The video is posted on YouTube and is not airing on television, Kurantowicz said. The spot weaves disparate threads — abortion, Connecticut’s business climate, and Ned and Annie Lamont’s investments— into a 39-second jab.
No one from Oak HC/FT responded to requests for comment Monday about whether Annie Lamont had any business in Nashville when the governor made his remark, or the degree to which the firm was taking a cautious approach towards investments in Connecticut.
The Lamont campaign issued a written statement that shed no additional light.
“Annie Lamont is a successful venture capitalist who has invested in transformative companies nationwide. Governor Lamont has made creating jobs and bringing companies to Connecticut one of his top priorities.” said Jake Lewis, a spokesman for Lamont’s campaign. “While the governor has worked tirelessly to attract companies to grow jobs, Bob Stefanowski has proudly laid off workers and fired them. Connecticut deserves a champion who will welcome businesses to grow and expand here.”
Not then a declared candidate, Stefanowski was running hard last fall over the state’s two COVID-19 testing contracts with Sema4, a company in which Oak HC/FT was a minority investor. Sema4 was one of four companies with federally approved testing that responded to Connecticut’s request for proposals in the early days of the pandemic.
The Lamonts have relied on a 16-page advisory opinion from the Office of State Ethics that offers guidance in navigating the difficulties inherent in the marriage of a governor intent on growing the tech sector in Connecticut and a venture capitalist who makes a good portion of her living there.
In an interview on Nov. 23, a week before he made the Nashville comment, Lamont noted that his wife’s investments were less complicated in other states.
“Annie has helped create dozens of great companies representing thousands of good-paying jobs,” Lamont said. “And it’s a lot easier to locate those jobs out of state so there’s no optics, no perception, no problems. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Going beyond the requirements of the ethics code, the Lamonts have given ethics officials a list of companies in which Oak is invested and the Lamonts should play no role in dealings with the state. According to the advisory opinion, the list is meant as “a checklist on a case-by-case basis to assist in identifying instances where recusal by the Governor or Mrs. Lamont would be necessary.”
Stefanowski has criticized Annie Lamont for filing a separate tax return from her husband, shielding her income from public view. The governor has released his returns.
Stefanowski, meanwhile, has his own transparency issue. He has yet to release his tax returns, and he already has indicated that the clients of his lucrative consulting business will remain anonymous.
Stefanowski and Lamont each are largely self-funding their campaigns, a rematch of the 2018 race won that the Democrat won by three percentage points. Campaign finance reports for the quarter that ended June 30 were due by midnight Monday.
In a press release issued Monday evening, the Stefanowski campaign reported raising $650,000 from outside donors, without disclosing the full report. Stefanowski, who spent $3 million of his money four years ago, has deposited $10 million of his funds into his campaign account.
Lamont spent $15 million four years ago.
Democrats have pressed Stefanowski to disclose the source of his funds. In an interview last month, Stefanowski said he has a business consulting practice with worldwide clients. He promised to release his tax returns but suggested that the identity of his clients were protected by non-disclosure agreements.