Records show Lamont putting priority on business leaders

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has made it a priority in his first months in office to reach out to top executives across Connecticut, embarking on a charm offensive in a state that has seen some of its best-known employers, including General Electric, move away.Lamont, a former businessman, has called or met privately with at least four dozen executives from large and small companies since taking office in January, according to a review of his daily schedules obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests.In an interview, the Democrat said he hopes the personal connections might make companies more inclined to reach out to him if there’s a problem, rather than broadsiding the administration with a move to another state. Lamont often references the “gut-punch” Connecticut suffered when General Electric announced in 2016 it was moving its longtime headquarters to Boston. The following year, before he was governor, he helped to organize an event with business leaders and policymakers to discuss why GE left and what Connecticut should do to encourage companies to stay and grow here.“I just told myself, I would never let that happen again,” he said.Despite his focus, companies have left the state on his watch for various reasons. Critics argue the state is still pursuing anti-business policies and higher taxes, especially on smaller businesses.Lamont’s calendar is a Who’s Who of Connecticut business leaders, including Vivek Sankaran, CEO of Pepsi North America; Chris Swift, CEO of The Hartford; Dave O’Neill, COO of Indeed.com; and Wolfgang Baiker, president and CEO of pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim.In some cases, Lamont was seeking feedback on specific state legislation, such as a proposed minimum wage increase or a public health insurance option. He also invited CEOs to the governor’s residence to give input on the next president of the University of Connecticut, part of an effort to meet the educational needs of employers. But most of the contacts from the one-time cable TV entrepreneur have been get-to-know-you conversations or congratulatory calls to a new CEO or to a company that just increased its hiring — milestones a Lamont aide uncovered by regularly scouring local newspapers.“These are introductory meetings. These are what can I do to help? What are your needs in terms of workforce? How can we help you recruit,” Lamont said. He said he’s “always surprised when they say, ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever met a governor.’”Joe Carbone, president and CEO of The Workplace in Bridgeport, which co-ordinates regional workforce development policy and programs, thought he was getting pranked when Lamont’s aide called to say the governor wanted to visit. Carbone hung up on him — twice — and didn’t think Lamont was actually coming until the governor appeared at his office and then stayed for an hour.“He fired one question after another, after another,” Carbone said. “It was a big surprise, but when he left here, I just felt so comforted. I heard it. This guy gets it.”Still, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano remains concerned that companies like United Technologies Corporation, which announced plans in June to move its headquarters from Farmington to the Boston area, as part of a merger with Raytheon Co., still aren’t choosing to invest in Connecticut. UTC recently announced a $45 million investment in Florida.“Companies large and small are telling us our state is not the top choice for growth,” said Fasano, of North Haven, in a recent statement.In a state that lags behind the rest of New England in job recovery from the 2008 recession, Fasano blames Lamont and his fellow Democrats for passing policies that he says have made the state less competitive.But Lamont notes that UTC Chairman and CEO Greg Hayes, whose name appears on the daily schedules, called to him to say the company was still committed to its presence in Connecticut.Bigelow Tea President Cindi Bigelow said her family’s Fairfield-based company, which currently employs 200 people in Connecticut, needs to expand. Like many larger Connecticut companies, Bigelow Tea has a footprint in multiple states.“The regulations are so much more challenging here,” she said. “(Lamont) is allowing me to rethink that position over the next six months and the year.”Bigelow said she’s been impressed so far by the outreach from Lamont and his administration and their willingness to hear from CEOs. She recently spoke with the governor about proposed family medical leave legislation.“I am cautiously, extremely optimistic that this governor is really trying to listen to people that have the interest of the state at heart,” said Bigelow.Not all of Lamont’s outreach has focused on major employers. And some of Lamont’s interactions haven’t appeared on his public schedule. He often decides on the spur of the moment to visit a business, like the Little House Brewing Co. in Chester.Co-owners Carlisle Schaeffer and Sam Wagner were busy working on a brew when Lamont came by last week. The brewery was closed for production and the two were covered in grain, yeast and hops.Embarrassed, Schaeffer said they cleared a spot at the bar for Lamont, gave him a light lager, and began chatting about new legislation that allows local craft breweries to sell more product off-premises.“He wanted to know our story, where we came up with the ideas for the brewery, how we started it,’” Schaeffer said. “It was just a nice, quick little surprise.”Susan Haigh, The Associated Press read more

Former Trump campaign chairman to register as foreign agent

Former Trump campaign chairman to register as foreign agent by Jeff Horwitz, Chad Day And Julie Pace, The Associated Press Posted Apr 12, 2017 7:47 pm MDT Last Updated Apr 12, 2017 at 8:20 pm MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for lobbying work he did on behalf of political interests in Ukraine, led at the time by a pro-Russian political party, his spokesman said Wednesday.Manafort is the second Trump campaign adviser to have to register as a foreign agent since the election. The confirmation that he intends to register comes as the Trump administration has been facing heavy scrutiny over the foreign ties of former campaign advisers and other Trump associates.By registering retroactively, Manafort will be acknowledging that he failed to properly disclose his work to the Justice Department as required by federal law.The Justice Department rarely prosecutes such violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, but Manafort will now have to publicly and specifically detail his foreign agent work. That includes which American government agencies and officials he sought to influence, how he was paid and the details of contracts he signed as part of the work. Before, Manafort had been able to keep much of that information out of public view.Manafort began discussions with the government about his lobbying activities after Trump hired him in March 2016, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said, although it was unclear whether those conversations occurred before or after Trump forced Manafort to resign in August. Asked by The Associated Press on Wednesday whether Manafort intends to register as a foreign agent, Maloni said: “Yes, he is registering.”Manafort’s resignation from the campaign came immediately after the AP had reported that Manafort’s consulting firm between 2012 and 2014 orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party without disclosing that it was working as a foreign agent.Manafort’s decision to register as a foreign agent comes about one month after former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn registered with the Justice Department for work he did that could have benefited the Turkish government. The filing came after Trump fired Flynn in February, saying that Flynn had misled administration top officials about his contacts with Russia.The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether Trump was aware that Manafort needed to register as a foreign agent.Earlier Wednesday, one of the Washington lobbying firms that worked on the influence campaign under the direction of Manafort and his former deputy, Rick Gates, itself registered after the fact with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. The Podesta Group acknowledged its work could have principally benefited Ukraine’s government. The other firm involved, Mercury LLC, later said it also would register soon as a foreign agent for its work.Gates did not respond to text messages left by the AP on Wednesday. His voicemail box was full.The Podesta Group and Mercury had previously disclosed their lobbying work to Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, but neither firm had registered with the Justice Department. A foreign agent registration requires lobbying firms to disclose more details about their work than is required under the congressional registration.The Podesta Group disclosed details of $1.2 million worth of lobbying it did from 2012 through 2014 on behalf of a Brussels-based non-profit, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine.In a statement to the AP, Kimberley Fritts, CEO of the Podesta Group, said that the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine had certified to the Podesta Group that it was not a vehicle of a foreign government or political party, which is why the lobbying firm only previously registered with Congress. Fritts did not say what information had been brought to light to change that determination.The European Centre did not immediately respond to phone messages and emails from the AP.As part of the lobbying, the Podesta Group contacted staffers for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., both strong supporters at the time of sanctions against the government of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political party Manafort worked for as a political consultant.By October 2013, as relations deteriorated between the Obama administration and Yanukovych, the lobbying effort appeared to intensify. Three times that month, for example, Podesta lobbyists contacted staffers for Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who had sponsored sanctions legislation.One of the staffers was Dan Harsha, now associate director of communications at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Harsha said he did not recall specific lobbying conversations but said congressional staffers were aware that the European Center was a pro-Yanukovych entity.“How many obscure European think tanks were able to hire sophisticated A-list lobbyists?” he said. “It was widely assumed the think-tank was a conduit for Yanukovych and it was treated as such on the Hill.”___Associated Press writer Stephen Braun contributed to this report. read more