Death of the Bipartisan Ethics Panel: A Timeline

2005

Ernie Newton pleads guilty to bribery. Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford), realizing that the Senate has no formal mechanism to deal with legislators who have ethical lapses, starts suggesting to his colleagues the idea of a bipartisan ethics panel. No one, it seems, is all that interested.

2007

Senate Minority Leader Lou DeLuca (R) is arrested in June on charges that he asked a known member of the mob to threaten his grandson-in-law. There is a scramble in the Senate to figure out what to do. DeLuca resigns as minority leader but continues on in the Senate.

The Senate creates a bipartisan committee of inquiry in August into the DeLuca affair, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats.

The idea of a permanent bipartisan ethics committee is floated in September. Sen. Donald Williams had asked Sen. Meyer to go forward with the idea, but only after the DeLuca mess.

“I started talking with my colleagues about this in early 2005 after we got information about Ernie Newton and had no mechanism to deal with it,” Meyer said.
 
But, he said, it wasn’t until after DeLuca pleaded guilty in June that [Majority Leader Don] Williams asked Meyer to “go forward with it.” (Hladky)

House Speaker Jim Amann, however, thinks it’s a bad idea.

“I don’t know why we need another committee,” said House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford. (Hladky)

 
DeLuca, after a long debate and a lot of resistance, eventually agrees to testify before the committee in October. Some of his testimony is under oath, the rest, including answers to questions from committee members, isn’t.

In November, the committee is granted subpoena power. Rather than release material, DeLuca resigns from the Senate.

In December, Sen. Thomas Gaffey (D) quits the Higher Education committee following the revelation of his relationship with a high-ranking official in the Connecticut State University system.

Also in December, still on their high horse, Senate Democrats propose a wide-ranging plan on ethics. Some sort of bipartisan process for investigating legislators is included in the plan. Also included is a mechanism to revoke pensions for corrupt state lawmakers, which will become a sticking point later.

2008

In April, after a lengthy debate over pension revocation a proposed ethics bill doesn’t make it to the floor.

In a June special session, an ethics bill is finally passed and signed. Pension revocation is in the bill (it isn’t retroactive, Rowland is spared), but a bipartisan ethics committee is not.

In July, Sen. Crisco (D) is denied public financing for forging signatures on documents.

2009

In January, Sen. Thomas Gaffey (D) is back, and this time he’s accused of double-billing. His transgressions are largely overshadowed by the news that Jim Amann has accepted a $120,000/year job to “advise” the new speaker. Amann later backs out under intense pressure.

In May, both Gaffey and Crisco are fined by the SEEC: Gaffey for $6,000, Crisco for $4,000. Sen. Williams makes a point that neither will suffer any further punishments.

Late in the month, as Democrats debate instituting (or re-instituting, if you like) special elections for U.S. Senate vacancies, Republicans offer an amendment that would create a bipartisan ethics committee. Sen. Williams dislikes the idea now, because:

Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said it opens the doors to frivolous complaints against any of the 36 senators. He said it means even if someone believed a rumor was true they couldn’t be held responsible for making a false statement against a senator. (Stuart)

The amendment is defeated. Every Democrat except for Sen. Ed Meyer votes against it.

Sources
Hladky, Gregory. “Ethics plan facing rocky road in House.” New Haven Register 14 September, 2007.
Stuart, Christine. “Senate Approves Power Grab, Declines Ethics Rule.” CT News Junkie 29 May, 2009.

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19 responses to “Death of the Bipartisan Ethics Panel: A Timeline

  1. Thanks Genghis. That really puts Williams and his caucus’s hypocrisy in context.

    Integrity is doing the right thing even if its’ uncomfortable to do so. As soon as their friends got in trouble, an Ethics Committee is all of a sudden not a good idea. Those Senate Democrats who served on the DeLuca Committee should be particularly embarrassed.

  2. AndersonScooper

    What exactly would the ethics committee do? The Tom Delay House had one, and it didn’t do jack.

    In the case of Crisco and Gaffey weren’t the laws pretty good, and didn’t the system work?

    You really have to put some of this in the context of Chris Healy’s bullshit allegations against Speaker Donovan.

    Healy knows no bounds, and he would abuse such a committee if ever it existed. That’s for sure.

  3. In the case of Crisco and Gaffey weren’t the laws pretty good, and didn’t the system work?

    Did it? The “system” you refer ti is rather limited in terms of its scope, and it would have no jurisdiction for a whole myriad of other “ethical” violations. And, at least up to now, we see no criminal enforcement from the State’s Attorney Office in the case of Crisco (which is a clear violation of criminal law on its face) or Gaffey (which is a little less clear).

  4. Joe Sixpack

    Apparently the laws and the system weren’t good enough for Lou DeLuca’s transgressions. Don Williams had no trouble jumping on a high horse to regale the masses about the sanctity of the Senate, blah blah blah. When it’s his guys, apparently the horse becomes a pony and the Senate ain’t so sanctimonious anymore.

  5. Mr. Reality

    Forget all the DeLuca, Gaffey Crisco stuff for a moment. Put that aside. What happened to the Ethics package that Don Williams propsed in December 07? They said it was a priority. What has changed since that time? Somebody?

  6. Joe Sixpack

    What changed is that Gaffey and Crisco got caught. Thankfully, this will be the end of any hopes for higher office for the mustachioed-one.

  7. scanman1722

    Ed Meyer: Profile in Courage on Ethics Reform

  8. Mr. Reality

    I give credit to Meyer…Absolutely.

  9. What changed is that Gaffey and Crisco got caught. Thankfully, this will be the end of any hopes for higher office for the mustachioed-one.

    Hey, did Derek Slap ever get back to the capitol press corps on the amount of money Crisco and Gaffey make on top of their Senate pay in their leader posts?

    I know he said he was going to do that. Because neither he or Don Williams knew when asked.

  10. State senators Thomas Gaffey of Meriden and Joseph Crisco of Woodbridge were not present in the chamber when Republican Sen. Stewart 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.

  11. Senator Stewart McKinney?

  12. The Senate Minority Leader is John, not Stewart, his dad. Thank’s Chris.

  13. Good to see a humbled Sen. Gaffey learned his lesson – He brought out a school recycling program bill proposed by his girlfriend’s son and got it passed in a massive education bill. What he forgot was that it directly benefits his employer, CRRA, which will profit from increased recycling that the bill now requires. Oops. And he dragged down his fellow CRRA cronies, Paul Doyle and Andrew MacDonald, with him. Can you say conflict of interest? Gaffey is so oily, that when he walked away from his seat at the circle after passage of the bill, there was a dark stain left on the carpet.

  14. Meyer’s trying to be one of the good guys. Thankfully at least a few (Hartley, Slossberg) try to do the right thing.

    Also worth noting… Meyer was a freshman, right? (defeated Aniskovich in 2004?) In other words, he hasn’t been there “too long” like Gaffey, Williams and their beloved counterparts who have been around FAR too long – Dodd & Lieberman.

  15. What really annoys me is how so many of the Gang of 187 get nervous about doing the right thing because their so-called leaders (R & D) threaten to take away their reserved parking spot or their bogus title (along with the $3,000 bonus).

    I’d love to see a running tally of the concerns raised by Gang members and the ones who backed down because s/he might lose a reserved parking spot!

  16. Scoop… with regard to further punishment within the General Assembly… I think it’s entirely appropriate. From Dillon to Clemons to countless others… like Deluca, they should resign their various titles (and their $3,000 bonuses).

    But neither Donovan nor Williams would do that. Because as Ted Mann alluded to… those titles (the extra cash really) are used to twist arms. And that leverage was used by Donavan when he wanted votes to move CT away from the electoral college and to a popular vote.

    There was no principle involved. It was Donovan buying votes… but of course it’s all legal… because they write the laws.

    I do see your point about Delay though (now fast forward to the current Senate Ethics panel dawdling on Dodd while chasing Coburn’s pro-bono Ob-Gyn work for low-income moms).

    Collectively-speaking… be it Hartford or Washington… they’re out to get their piece of the pie and don’t care much about “the little people.”

  17. Speaking of the Ethics Committee, some of us are wondering where the defenders of the Constitution — and the right of citizens to petition their government for a redress of grievances — come down on this one: http://www.courant.com/news/local/hc-church-ethics-0530.art0may30,0,5479928.story

    We are not even permitted to know who filed the grievance against the Catholic Church.

    Have these people heard of the Freedom of Information Commission?

  18. Good to see a humbled Sen. Gaffey learned his lesson – He brought out a school recycling program bill proposed by his girlfriend’s son and got it passed in a massive education bill. What he forgot was that it directly benefits his employer, CRRA, which will profit from increased recycling that the bill now requires. Oops. And he dragged down his fellow CRRA cronies, Paul Doyle and Andrew MacDonald, with him. Can you say conflict of interest? Gaffey is so oily, that when he walked away from his seat at the circle after passage of the bill, there was a dark stain left on the carpet.

    I know both Tom Gaffey and Paul Doyle are involved in the CRRA stench but what does Andrew MacDonald do there?

  19. Joe Sixpack

    MacDonald’s law firm does significant work for CRRA, and he has recused himself on issues concerning them in the past.

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