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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Gov. Rell's Chief of Staff knows how to throw a fundraiser

Wow! When Lisa Moody throws a fundraiser for the governor, SHE THROWS a fundraiser for the governor.

In a rush to rake in as much cash as possible (even if it meant breaking her boss' rules), Moody gathered together some of the biggest donors around town to attend Governor Rell’s now infamous Dec 7th fundraiser. The Hartford Courant published a partial list of donors who attended the event and it reads like a who's who list.

From the Hartford Courant
The heads of at least 15 state agencies were among a who's who of top political appointees contributing more than $50,000 to Gov. M. Jodi Rell's election campaign in connection with a controversial fundraiser now under investigation by two state agencies, The Courant has learned.

About 70 people, many high-ranking officials, attended the Dec. 7 campaign event at the Marco Polo Restaurant in East Hartford, some of them after receiving invitations hand-addressed by Rell's chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody. Sources have told The Courant that attendees wrote checks ranging from $200 to the maximum allowable $2,500.

After initially saying it would make public the list of donors, Rell's 2006 campaign has refused to name those who wrote checks in connection with the event. Because the checks have been returned to donors, the campaign does not have to list them on its official campaign financing report, a Rell spokesman has said.

However, sources have provided the names of about half the people who attended or contributed in connection with the event.

The list includes at least 15 state agency heads, including the leaders of some of the biggest departments - such as Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Yelmini, Public Works Commissioner James Fleming and Leonard Boyle, the former federal prosecutor who is Rell's commissioner of public safety.

Also attending were the leaders of some lesser-known agencies, including Richard Gray, executive director of the quasi-public Connecticut Health and Education Facilities Authority; and Marie O'Brien, president of the quasi-public Connecticut Development Authority.

The list of names demonstrates that the Marco Polo affair was an extraordinary gathering of powerful agency heads and their deputies that would be unusual at a single fundraiser for any Connecticut governor
- let alone Rell, who has made campaign reform and ethical government her hallmark.

In addition to Boyle, Yelmini, Fleming, Gray and O'Brien, the following heads of state agencies attended the event: Transportation Commissioner Stephen Korta; Motor Vehicles Commissioner Ralph Carpenter; Environmental Protection Commissioner Regina McCarthy; Labor Commissioner Shaun Cashman; Economic and Community Development Commissioner James Abromaitis; Insurance Commissioner Susan Cogswell; Consumer Protection Commissioner Edwin Rodriguez; Public Health Commissioner J. Robert Galvin; Robert Genuario, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management; and Jennifer Aniskovich, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.
One can see why the Rell campaign was reluctant to provide the full list of names at the gala. Having that many big-time players at one fundraiser is very strange one could conclude that Rell was trying to rake in the cash as quickly as possible and play catch up to DeStefano and Malloy.

Whether this will hurt Rell remains to be seen but if her cheif of staff broke the law in personally handing out invitations for this event, be sure that her Democratic challangers will make this an issue.

There is nothing illegal, in itself, about such an aggregation of appointees at a fundraising event. But questions of illegality have arisen in this case because Moody handed multiple invitations for the Dec. 7 event to several state commissioners in the governor's Capitol office suite - some with her handwritten notation to "bring check" - and asked them in turn to give invitations to subordinates. The list of attendees includes at least 20 political appointees who work for the agency heads.

Officials who passed the invitations on to others may have violated a state law banning the solicitation of campaign contributions by "any department head or deputy department head."

It is unclear from state statutes whether the prohibition applies to the four agencies headed by Gray, Genuario, O'Brien and Aniskovich, even though their presence on the list still could become campaign fodder. But the law clearly applies to all attendees with the title of commissioner.


Even if no enforcement action results from the two pending probes, the case could bring up the campaign issue of whether it is proper to so directly seek contributions from officials whose jobs, or future reappointment to their jobs, are in the hands of the governor.

Also noteworthy, according to two sources familiar with the episode, is that nearly all of the commissioners took the invitations from Moody without question - even though they had been warned just weeks before that doing so was contrary to Rell's own policy and a potential violation of the long-standing state campaign law.
Like I said, this could be a problem for Rell if Moody used her power as cheif of staff to get so many donors to attend this event. And remember, we still don't have the FULL list of people who attended...