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Carla’s Pasta founder gets return on political donations

Carla Squatrito, founder of Carla’s Pasta in South Windsor, gave $1,000 to the Connecticut Democratic Party last month, following up on another $1,000 donation in November.

Squatrito is a regular contributor to Democratic candidates and political action committees, giving $48,150 since 1999, according to the Federal Elections Commission. She made state-level contributions as recently as 2011, but as a recipient of state funds can no longer do so. Her recent donations to the state party went to its federal account.

The federal account allows state contractors and recipients of state funds to avoid the ban on their political donations.

Last year, the Department of Economic and Community Development awarded Carla’s Pasta a $4 million forgivable loan to fund an expansion project.

In 2012, Carla’s Pasta received a $2.2 million loan and $750,000 grant from the state to install a fuel cell.

“In Connecticut, the government works,” company vice president Sergio Squatrito told CT News Junkie when Gov. Dannel Malloy visited the new fuel cell. “Too many times businesses don’t step up and say ‘without the government this would not be happening.’”

Gilbane grows state business, execs give back to Dems

Executives with the construction firm and state contractor Gilbane Building Co. donated $3,750 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account last month.

A party’s federal account can accept donations from any U.S. citizen including banned state contractors, making the state-level prohibition on their contributions moot.

Providence-based Gilbane has seen a growing amount of state business in recent years. According to the legislature’s transparency website, the state paid Gilbane about $900,000 in 2010, $1.5 million in 2011, $12.5 million in 2012 and $37.4 million in 2013.

The company is also part of the Stamford Manhattan Development Ventures. DOT selected the SMDV joint venture as preferred developer last year on a redevelopment project expected to cost half a billion dollars.

Although DOT selected SMDV, the agency has not announced a contract with the joint venture. The SMDV partners are JHM Group, Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation, ECCO III Enterprises and Gilbane.

Employees of the SMDV partners have been generously donating to the Democratic Party’s federal account.

 Weeks after DOT selected SMDV, John McClutchy Jr. of the JHM Group gave a $10,000 contribution to the state party. His wife and son each gave $10,000 as well.

– In November, employees of Buffalo-based joint-venture members gave another $27,500.

– In December, employees of SMDV partners contributed $32,500.

The contributions of Gilbane employees bring the running total to $93,750 since the announcement of preferred developer status.

Gilbane is also working on the $135 million Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington paid for with a forgivable state loan.

The state’s list of banned contractors does not include SMDV even though its principals are banned from making state-level political contributions.

Connecticut insurance exchange hired marketing company for ‘legislative communications strategy’

Access Health CT, the health-insurance exchange implementing Obamacare in Connecticut, paid a marketing firm millions in part to “engage key legislators” but contends the agreement does not violate a ban on lobbying by quasi-public state agencies.

The original $7.2 million agreement with marketing consultant Pappas MacDonnell included $59,900 for a “legislative communications strategy.”

“The quick answer is, NO they do NOT do any lobbing for us, they are a Marketing Firm only,” said Kathleen Tallarita, spokeswoman for Access Health and a former state representative.

State agencies, including quasi-publics, are not allowed to hire lobbyists.

The agreement describes the goal of legislative communications:

“To establish Access Health CT as the marketplace for quality, affordable health insurance in Connecticut, Pappas MacDonnell will immediately engage key legislators to ensure that they understand what Access Health CT is, how it functions, its impact on Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace, and the potential implications of legislative action (or inaction) in the upcoming sessions.”

Connecticut law defines lobbying, with a few exceptions, as:

“communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any official or his staff in the legislative or executive branch of government or in a quasi-public agency, for the purpose of influencing any legislative or administrative action.”

Pappas designated its subcontractor, public affairs and lobbying firm Grossman Heinz, to work on the legislative strategy listing three individuals – all billing $300 an hour – Andrew Grossman, Chris Heinz and Lynn Pincus.

The agreement lists “legislation” in a description of the duties of two project managers: Logan Kelly ($75 per hour) and Quynh Tran ($60 per hour).

“As a secondary objective Pappas MacDonnell will also seek out legislators’ input on consumer outreach and Navigator programs to get their buy-in to aid in the coordinated consumer outreach process,” the agreement says.

Access Health agreed to pay Pappas another $10.3 million under an October 2013 addendum that does not mention legislative communications for a total payment of $17.5 million. According to Tallarita, the payments to Pappas include the cost of advertisements purchased by the firm on behalf of Access Health.

Separately, Access Health hired Global Strategy Group to handle public relations.

The Connecticut Health Investigative Team reported earlier this year that Access Health, considered one of the more successful state-based exchanges, spent $156.3 million to start up.

Access Health also paid Pappas $1,650 each for two “CEO messages.” The contract originally called for 15 such messages – totaling $24,750 – but Tallarita said the exchange only sent out two.

Access Health also paid three artists $24,980 each to paint murals.

Connecticut pays out $13.8 million in longevity payments

Connecticut will pay out $13.8 million in longevity payments to 27,602 unionized state workers this week, up slightly from October’s payment, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

The average eligible employee received $500, a slight increase. The number of employees receiving a payment increased by about 200. In October, the payments totaled $13.6 million.

The state calculates the bonuses – paid in April and October – based on how long an employee has worked for the state.

The General Assembly made the non-union longevity bonuses part of regular salaries starting this year. Over time, this will cost the state more money as these employees earn percentage raises on their new, larger salaries. Gov. Dannel Malloy had already frozen their longevity payments.

 

Jackson Labs avoids local approvals as a ‘state project’

Construction on the Jackson Laboratory facility in Farmington is well on its way to completion thanks in part to unique treatment of the project: the lab didn’t need any local approvals.

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine will receive a $297 million subsidy from the state. Gov. Dannel Malloy has touted the project for its economic-development potential.

If all goes according to plan, the time between legislative approval and grand opening will be almost exactly three years.

In addition to the monetary benefits from the state, treating the lab as a “state project” allowed to it to avoid the time-consuming and costly land-use process faced by other developers. Instead, the project received state approvals.

Mike Hyde, the nonprofit lab’s vice president of external affairs and strategic partnerships, said another developer “would follow the exact same process that we are” – if it was building on state property and had state financial support.

“I don’t know if one is more stringent than the other,” Hyde said. “I couldn’t say it was a privilege because I don’t know what the other experience is like.”

According to a March 2014 update on the project, JGM received about $9 million in state money for research, training and other reimbursable expenses.

By the end of 2013, JGM spent $64 million on construction out of $135 million budgeted. The state gave JGM a $192 million forgivable construction loan.

According to hiring projections, the subsidy amounts to about $42,000 per job per year.

The General Assembly approved Malloy’s incentives for JGM in October 2011. The new law designated Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture capital fund, to manage the state’s relationship with JGM.

Connecticut Innovations signed an agreement with JGM in January 2012.

JGM awarded the contract to manage construction of the 183,500 square foot lab in January 2013.

Hyde said the lab plans an Oct. 7 grand opening.

In order to maintain its incentives JGM needs to reach 300 employees within 10 years. Hyde said the building could fit up to 320 people. “We’ll hit the 300 employee mark sooner than we had imagined,” Hyde said.

Hyde said JGM has 79 employees in about 11,000 square feet of temporary space and is looking for about 35 new employees. “We’re adding people at a lively clip,” he said.

Some University of Connecticut employees count toward JGM’s hiring goals.

The legal principles that allow JGM to avoid local land-use regulations are the same that allow a contractor for the Department of Transportation to build a road for the state without local approval. These principles have expanded greatly. In 1959, Attorney General Albert Coles wrote an opinion giving the state the ability to give an airport hotel on state property a liquor license instead of following local regulations.

“Therefore, it is my opinion that the airport operation constitutes a governmental function serving the public need and by virtue of its nature is immune to the zoning power of the Town of Windsor Locks,” Coles wrote a half-century ago. “The hotel with a liquor permit would be in furtherance of, rather than a deviation from, the essential airport use and, therefore, exempt from the zoning regulations of the Town of Windsor Locks.”

Update: This  post was updated to clarify that JGM did obtain state-level approvals for construction in place of local approvals.