Foley Think Tank Walks Fine Line Between Politics & Policy
It was difficult to separate politics from policy Friday as a non-profit institute founded by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley released a set of recommendations on urban policy after an introduction by the candidate.
The Connecticut Policy Institute’s report focuses on recommendations for job growth, crime reduction, neighborhood revitalization, and career education in the state’s urban centers. Ben Zimmer, the institute’s executive director, said his group works to formulate good policy and operates independently of Foley.
“In Connecticut and across the country, too often when we’re thinking about policy, it becomes submerged into the lens of politics,” Zimmer said.
Foley, the Republican nominee for governor in 2010 who lost a historically close race to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, introduced Zimmer at the press conference in the Legislative Office Building.
He said he was proud of the work of the institute, which he founded in 2011 just months after the gubernatorial election. He said the work has been non-partisan and research-based, but Foley did not discourage politics from entering the equation Friday. His campaign advised reporters of the event in an email under the “Tom Foley for Governor” letterhead.
Foley told reporters his presence helped bring exposure to the group’s report.
“I think it highlights the policy work they’re doing. If you’re sitting out there and you’re doing excellent policy work and nobody knows you’re doing it and nobody’s paying any attention, nobody’s writing about it, the cameras aren’t rolling—it doesn’t have any impact,” he said.
Zimmer said his group has always been upfront about its association with Foley and hoped that association would not make some people closed off to the ideas included in their reports. Zimmer pointed to the recent activity of Malloy, who is widely expected to run for reelection this year.
“Gov. Malloy spoke at the [Connecticut Business and Industry Association] event earlier this week,” he said. “Tom is here exclusively in his capacity as CPI founder and prominent official in this state…. People are going to perceive what they perceive. I can’t control the way people process information.”
When asked by a reporter, Zimmer said he did not believe the cost of putting together the report should be considered an in-kind contribution to Foley’s campaign. Last year Foley agreed to pay the State Elections Enforcement Commission $15,504, to cover the cost of a poll his campaign commissioned.
Malloy, who was in Rhode Island Friday, has stated that he does not intend to announce whether he will be a candidate this year until May, after the legislative session concludes.
In the meantime, he has kept an active public schedule by attending events throughout the state. He is currently engaged in a series of town hall meetings where he has been engaged with voters and on Wednesday spoke at a New Britain event with President Barack Obama aimed at shoring up support for raising the minimum wage.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, called Friday’s press conference a “purely political” effort by Foley. But Hallinan would say little about the nature of Malloy’s frequent events.
“Sure, he’s out and about but I think attending an event held by the President of the United States is very different from the Connecticut Policy Institute,” he said. “[Malloy’s] made it clear that he’s out supporting Democratic ideals and Democratic causes as well. I think that’s a very clear difference.”
A poll released this week by Quinnipiac University suggested that voters were evenly split between supporting Malloy and Foley, who had the highest polling numbers among Republican candidates. Quinnipiac called the 42 - 42 percent matchup a “dead heat.”
Foley said Friday the poll results were good news for Republicans.
“To be this far out, and to be showing this even in a very blue state with a Democratic encumbent, I think this shows that the people are unhappy with where Connecticut is and where it seems to be going under this governor,” he said.
As for the Connecticut Policy Institute’s urban recommendations, Foley said he would not adopt them directly as part of his campaign platform but said they were a “good start” and represent a set of policies he may adopt.
“We need to talk to people in these communities, we need to talk to business leaders about whether these will work and which of them will work and make the most sense,” he said. “In terms of my campaign and developing an urban policy agenda of my own, this a good framework to start from.”