Gov. Ned Lamont’s second inaugural ball on Jan. 4 will feature live music by the Bacon Brothers (yes, that means Kevin Bacon), half-price $100 tickets for the 30-and-under crowd, and a pre-party reception with the governor to thank sponsors who pony up as much as $25,000.
Four years ago, Lamont’s inaugural committee raised about $350,000 from sponsors to offset the cost of a $786,000 ball at the Connecticut Convention Center that was otherwise financed by sales of tickets, according to the governor’s office.
This year, the Lamonts are opting for similar financing, but a different venue: The Bushnell, the venerable performing arts center across from the state Capitol. Tickets are on sale, with general admission costing $200 for anyone over 30.
Inaugural balls are perhaps the last place where a lobbyist or state contractor can exceed a $50 annual limit on wining and dining an elected official. Contributions to an inaugural are deemed a gift to the state, not an individual.
The inauguration itself is free and open to the public.
Lamont and four other statewide constitutional officers will be inaugurated that morning at the State Armory, immediately west of the Capitol complex. They will exit to a cannon salute and, if weather permitting, a helicopter flyover.
No parade is planned.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who serves as president of the Senate, will take the oath earlier at the Capitol, then preside over the swearing in of lawmakers. All 36 senators and 151 House members begin their new terms on Jan. 4.
Three of the constitutional officers will begin their first terms: Stephanie Thomas, secretary of the state; Sean Scanlon, comptroller; and Erick Russell, treasurer.
Lamont, Bysiewicz and Attorney General William Tong are starting second terms.
At midday, Lamont will address a joint session of the General Assembly. For the first time since the arrival of COVID-19, the public galleries of the House and Senate are expected to be open.
The inaugural ball runs from 6:30 p.m. to midnight.
Since at least 1998, the Office of State Ethics and its predecessor, the State Ethics Commission, has given the same advice: Connecticut law places no limits on contributions from lobbyists, their clients or contractors for inaugurals.
Elected officials generally are barred from accepting gifts from a state contractor or lobbyist, other than token items valued less than $10 or no more than $50 in food and beverages over the course of a year.
In a recent exchange of emails with ethics officials, Lamont’s office outlined its inaugural plans and confirmed that the advice from ethics lawyers was unchanged.
“In preparation for the upcoming Governor’ s inaugural ball, a committee has been established consisting of one current Office of the Governor employee and three non-state employees,” wrote Walter Menjivar, the associate general counsel.
The employee is Kathy Damato, the administrator of the governor’s office who also worked for Lamont’s predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The three others are Brian Durand, Michael Mandell and Steve Kinney, all government affairs advisors acting as volunteers.
“This committee intends to reach out to Connecticut businesses, some of whom will be state contractors and lobbyists seeking donations for the event,” Menjivar wrote. “Sponsors of the event will be acknowledged at the Governor’s ball and the committee will maintain a list of all contributors that will be available to the public upon request.”
Durand is Malloy’s former chief of staff who has a political and government affairs consulting firm with Mandell, the former executive director of the Connecticut Democratic Party under Malloy. Kinney is a former aide to U.S. Sen Chris Dodd. Durand and Kinney are registered lobbyists.
Contributions to the committee will be limited to $25,000, said Anthony Anthony, a spokesman for Lamont. There is no limit under the law.
Marianne Sadowski, the deputy general counsel to the Office of State Ethics, advised Menjivar that state policy is unchanged since an informal opinion issued in December 1998 by Rachel Rubin, then the managing director the State Ethics Commission.
“The Commission will consider the inauguration and any related activities to be official state functions. Therefore, any goods or services provided to support these events will be a ‘gift to the state’ and exempt from the gift limits contained in the Code. As a result you are not restricted from any entity, including registered lobbyists and/or persons who have business before the Office of the Governor.”
Rubin advised that contributions from lobbyists would “foster goodwill and are, therefore, an expense in furtherance of lobbying. The lobbyist will need to include the total amount contributed on its financial disclosure form.”
Lobbyists must disclosure fees and expenditures related to lobbying to the Office of State Ethics.
Rubin was replying to an inquiry for a lawyer representing the inaugural committee of Gov. John G. Rowland, who had just been reelected to his second term. Rowland’s committee limited contributions to $5,000.
Damato said Monday that the Lamonts will be liable for any costs not covered by the sponsors or sale of tickets. She had no final budget for the ball, but said she was hoping to stay close to the “ballpark” number of nearly $800,000 from four years ago.
As was the case four years ago, the ball largely will feature food and music produced by Connecticut residents.
It’s a paying gig for the Bacon Brothers, the band led by the actor and his brother, Michael Bacon, a composer and music professor. Kevin Bacon and his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, own a farm in Litchfield County.
“They’re not volunteering. They are being paid, as is the DJ that’s coming in, as is a couple of other people” said Damato, who declined to identify them. “I don’t want to ruin the surprise.”
A band led by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who lives in Connecticut with his wife and “Morning Joe” co-host, Mika Brzezinski, played at Lamont’s first inaugural. They also were paid, Damato said.
The second inaugural will be unconventional, with elements spread throughout the performing arts complex. The Bacon Brothers will perform in the William H. Mortensen Hall, the Bushnell’s original 2,799-seat theater, while patrons will eat, drink and converse in the newer ports of the center.
“We want to give people something slightly different and a little bit more intimate to kick off term two,” Anthony said.
While the Mortensen is hardly a ballroom, there will be dancing to the Bacon Brothers.
Damato said the band will perform from a smaller stage constructed on the main stage. The rest of the stage, plus a covered orchestra pit, will become a dance floor.
“And I think that’d be a blast, to be up on the stage and dance,” Damato said. “How often do you get to do that?”