OP-ED | Dear Hillary: Ditch the ‘Lack of Transparency’ Governor
What a difference a decade makes. Back in 2004, when then-Mayor Dan Malloy was launching his first exploratory committee for governor, he called for “a fundamental change in our approach to government.” As the first official investigation into corruption charges against Gov. John Rowland continued, that Malloy said, “When government becomes a closed insider game this kind of stuff can play itself out.”
However, since Gov. Malloy took statewide office in January 2011, he’s given life to the French expression plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: the more things changes, the more it’s the same.
Our state’s ranking in public integrity has actually declined under Malloy’s watch, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
We get an “F” for public access to information — ask your friendly Connecticut journalist how many FOIA requests they’ve had to file to get information under this supposedly transparent administration.
Malloy’s staff used private emails for public business. His charter school-promoting Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, funneled $255,000 in no-bid contracts for consulting services through the State Education Research Center. State auditors found that “in each of these cases, the state’s personal service agreement procedures and its contracting procedures were not followed.”
It’s taken until this year to get any kind of transparency for the UConn Foundation, and that only came after bipartisan political pressure.
Meanwhile the state Democratic Party refused to comply with a subpoena for information related to mailings for Malloy’s 2014 re-election and paid for from the party’s federal account, which is allowed to accept money from state contractors. State contractors are banned from giving money to candidates for state office under the clean election laws passed in the wake of the Rowland scandal.
Yesterday, at the last possible moment he could have either signed or vetoed the bill, Malloy announced that he was vetoing HB5636, which passed with unanimous votes in both the state House and Senate.
In his veto message, the governor justified the veto thusly: “HB 5636 makes changes to the general scope and responsibility for the analysis of tax incentives. Currently the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), in conjunction with the DRS, produces a report every three years assessing the impact of the state’s tax credit and abatement programs. This bill would transfer responsibility for and control of that report to the Legislative Program Review and Investigation Committee. I consider this change unnecessary and unwarranted. The last report produced by DECD and DRS in 2014 was 169 pages long and used modified and updated methodology in recommending how to achieve maximum benefit from the incentives offered. Those agencies have the subject matter expertise to provide independent actionable analysis and recommendations based on measurable, verifiable standards, as seen in the most recent report. For the elements of the legislation that can be accomplished without statutory authority, I encourage the proponents of this section of House Bill 5636 to work with DECD as it prepares its 2017 report to the legislature.”
Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who thankfully has remained committed to open government and transparency, said. “This veto — following a decision to provide $22 million in state funding to one of the world’s largest hedge funds, which I opposed — is deeply troubling. The state provides hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to Connecticut businesses every year. The state owes it to businesses and all taxpayers to fully analyze the return on investment that these sizable and important programs actually deliver in order to assess whether such resources are fulfilling their intended purpose or, if not, whether state funds would be better deployed to other economic development or infrastructure investment.
“If objectivity really matters, we always want an independent third party to evaluate our work. This is why teachers grade tests and students don’t just assign their own grades. Furthermore, this is a terrible loss of transparency where we need it most.”
Lembo is right. Both this veto and Malloy’s justification for it are disturbing, especially given recent experience requesting data from the DECD for research on economic incentives. Which leads us to a bigger issue, on the national stage.
Hillary Clinton already has ethics and transparency challenges regarding donations from foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation received during her tenure as Secretary of State. She’s only exacerbated pay-for-play concerns by announcing that former President Bill Clinton will have a role in “revitalizing the economy.”
If Clinton is serious about bringing the party together, the best thing she could do is to remove our deeply unpopular governor, from his position as platform committee co-chair. She needs to reach out to Sanders supporters now, and she’s not going to do that effectively by claiming that a governor who’s proved his commitment to undermine the goals of transparency and ethics will be an “honest broker.” Keeping Malloy will just continue to feed the already held concerns of both progressive Democrats and moderate Republicans who might be leaning in her direction. Malloy’s autocratic style and lack of transparency are exactly the kind of politics the electorate is rebelling against in this election.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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