Friday, May 29, 2009

Democrats Say “Yes, No” to Standing Legislative Ethics Committee

State senators Thomas Gaffey of Meriden and Joseph Crisco of Woodbridge were not present in the chamber when Republican Sen. John McKinney offered a bill, voted down by dominant Democrats, to establish a standing legislative ethics committee.

There is some humorous speculation that Sen. Crisco, recently found to have forged documents for which he was fined $4,000 by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, had secluded himself behind the statue representing “The Genius of Connecticut” in the North lobby of the Capitol, while Sen. Gaffey, fined $6,000 by the same committee for having fraudulently charged both the state and his political action committee for the same campaign travel expenses, was canoodling with a lobbyist for Connecticut’s four state colleges in the cramped elevator that connects the building’s first and second floors.

The issue of a standing ethics committee was first raised after Republican Sen. Lou DeLuca had failed to resist the blandishments of an FBI plant pretending to be an associate of a reputed mob connected trash hauler. The agent told the senator he would be privileged to “pay a visit” to a future son-in-law who, the senator thought, had assaulted his daughter, a charge hotly disputed by the accused ruffian who later married DeLuca’s daughter – all in all, a messy family affair.

At the time, both Republican and Democrat senators had conspired to give DuLuca the boot. The senator pleaded guilty to a single count that could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired on the charge, and the vast inducement machine that had been assembled to force DeLuca from the legislature – a persistent negative press, threats of prosecution, threats of impeachment – ground to a halt before the measure establishing a standing legislative ethics committee could be adopted by a preening legislature.

Before and after he left the chamber, DeLuca accused some in the legislature of gross hypocrisy, the compliment, some say, that vice pays to virtue.

DeLuca’s charges, then thought by Derrick Slap, communications chief for President Pro Tem of the senate Don William, to be an exercise in overheated rhetoric, have now borne bitter fruit.

One of DeLuca’s barbs was aimed at Gaffey.

In the course of dilating upon Gaffey’s “amorata,” Kevin Rennie’s term for Associate Vice Chancellor Jill Ferraiolo, a state worker and a lobbyist for Connecticut’s four state colleges, the Courant columnist noted in December 2007 that under persistent questioning “Gaffey's recollection was getting sharper. He recalled, in response to written questions, two previously undisclosed luncheons with Ferraiolo and others that he paid for with money from his Government Action Fund Political Action Committee. Those are political contributions that Gaffey has used for years to finance travel, dinners and trips.”

Flash forward to the present crisis: Gaffey, whose expense accounts were usually in a shambles, now has been fined $6,000 by the state Elections Enforcement Commission for double billing the state and his political action committee, GAFPAC, for the same travel expenses.

President Pro Tem of the senate Don Williams’ reaction, both then and now, to Gaffey’s artfully sloppy accounting – not to mention Gaffey’s cozy association with a lobbyist whose client, the Connecticut State University System, was awarded more than a billion in tax appropriations – remains unvaried.

“State Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams,” Rennie wrote in December, “displaying his taste for censorship, mustered a studied disdain for the idea that Gaffey ought to have disclosed his affair while shaping and promoting the CSUS legislation. Pay no attention to Gaffey's gambit last spring, as a member of the legislature's Finance Committee, to replace a carefully controlled plan for CSUS with one that spent a lot more and included less oversight…”

Even in the face of an unambiguous finding that Gaffey had charged both the state and GAFPAC for the same expenses, Williams remains studiously disdainful towards the notion of a standing legislative ethics committee that might monitor, more closely and more disinterestedly than he, the fraudulent activities of Gaffey or the illegal activities of Sen. Joe Crisco, the forger.

When Dereck Slap was asked why Democrats, once in favor of a permanent legislative ethics committee, had now reversed themselves, Williams’ communications director responded that while Democrats were serious in first broaching the idea, recently they had “"just looked at it extensively" and decided that it was not “something that made the most sense.”

Such in-your-face distain towards effective oversight measures, given the present circumstances, may only lead Williams to a fatal failure and more distain.

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