GOP ads attack Lamont’s integrity, and Democrats respond in kind
A super PAC’s first television ad complements attacks made by the Republican presumptive gubernatorial nominee, Bob Stefanowski, on the integrity and transparency of the first-term Democratic governor, Ned Lamont.
The 30-second commercial by CT Truth PAC spotlights the FBI investigation of school construction contracts once overseen by Konstantinos Diamantis, the state budget official fired in October by the Lamont administration.
It is the first negative TV ad of Connecticut’s race for governor and comes as Stefanowski’s campaign is running a new line of Facebook advertising suggesting the Lamont administration is corrupt and opaque.
Democratic rebuttals turned on Lamont’s response to the contracting scandal and Stefanowski’s own integrity, citing his record as chief financial officer of UBS and chief executive of a payday loan company, DFC Global.
The early Republican attacks and immediate Democratic counter are likely harbingers of an ugly rematch between Lamont and Stefanowski, both businessmen nominated in the open race for governor in 2018.
CT Truth PAC is an independent expenditure group with a Stefanowski connection: It is advised by Chris LaCivita, a strategic consultant to Stefanowski’s previous run four years ago.
Liz Kurantowicz, an adviser to Stefanowski’s current campaign, said there is nothing new in Stefanowski’s focus on integrity issues.
“The issue of accountability and transparency are cornerstones of Bob’s campaign,” she said. “And they are issues that he has been talking about since the day he announced, and frankly before he announced, his campaign for governor. It’s one of the reasons why he’s running.”
Going negative early is a sign of GOP desperation, said Dan Morrocco, the governor’s campaign manager.
“But what else should we expect from a candidate who made millions of dollars helping outsource jobs, building tax shelters for the wealthy and charging working families exorbitant interest rates on payday loans that are illegal in our state,” Morrocco said.
The Facebook ads on corruption started running two weeks ago.
“We don’t know the full extent of corruption within the Lamont Administration, but as the people who pay their salaries, Connecticut residents have a right to know,” the Stefanowski campaign says in the latest one, posted a week ago.
On television, the super PAC financed by real estate investor and GOP donor David Kelsey of Old Lyme closes its ad in a similar vein. A tagline reads, “Governor Lamont: Come Clean Your Administration LOOKS DIRTY.”
The super PAC has no web site and has not posted the ad on the web.
The CT Truth PAC
Kelsey and the PAC’s chair, Sergio Mangione, a construction contractor from East Haven, have declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding the founding of the independent expenditure group or the hiring of Stefanowski’s former consultant.
Its first detailed campaign finance report won’t be filed until next month, but LaCivita confirmed in a text message what sources had told CT Mirror: The super PAC is his client.
Super PACs cannot coordinate advertising with the campaigns they are supporting, and shared vendors or consultants constitute a presumption of illegal coordination under state law. But LaCivita’s work for CT Truth PAC four years after the 2018 election is well outside an 18-month cooling off period in state law.
CT Truth PAC was created on Feb. 9, exactly one week after the Lamont administration disclosed that the FBI had subpoenaed records focused on school construction grants overseen by Diamantis.
Three days later, it reported an initial contribution of $500,000 from Kelsey, a co-founder and managing principal of Hamilton Point Investments, a national investor in multi-family housing and hotels.
Kelsey was not a donor to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaigns in 2016 or 2020. But he has given $1 million to the Republican National Committee since 2018, including $109,500 help with legal expenses related to Trump’s challenge of his loss to Joe Biden and more than $200,000 to underwrite Trump’s 2020 nominating convention.
The PAC’s commercial turns on allegations by local officials in several towns that Diamantis pressured them to hire certain contractors and a CT Mirror story about one contractor’s complaint to state officials in 2020.
“Municipalities [were] pressured to hire contractors, and Governor Lamont’s people knew about it a year before the feds announced their investigation. Ned Lamont needs to come clean,” a narrator says.
It is true that, since the disclosure of the FBI investigation, officials in several municipalities have accused Diamantis of urging them to use certain contractors on state-financed school projects, including one that employed his daughter, Anastasia Diamantis.
The circumstances of what the Lamont administration knew before the FBI investigation are more nuanced.
A demolition contractor, Stamford Wrecking Company, complained to state officials on April 29, 2020 that the Office of Policy and Management, where Diamantis was the second-ranking official, had been urging municipalities to bypass local bidding and hire from a state-approved emergency bid list of contractors.
The complaint was addressed to Diamantis’ boss at the Office of Policy and Management, Secretary Melissa McCaw, and to Josh Geballe, the commissioner of administrative services, where the school construction program was based until it moved with Diamantis in late 2019 to OPM.
There is no evidence that either brought the letter to Lamont’s attention.
OPM eventually clarified in March 2021 that municipalities were under no obligation to hire from the state list. Lamont has said he was not informed of the complaint by Stamford Wrecking and was unaware of issues with Diamantis until a controversy over allegations of nepotism in October.
Diamantis was fired on October 28 over allegations regarding how the same daughter, Anastasia Diamantis, landed a $99,000-a-year job as an executive assistant to Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. Lamont hired a lawyer to see if ethics laws were violated.
Emails obtained by CT Mirror under the Freedom of Information Act after his firing showed Colangelo had hired the daughter while he was lobbying her father for help in securing raises for prosecutors. The emails also revealed Anastasia Diamantis was moonlighting for a school construction management company.
While decrying negative ads, Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chair, and Lamont’s campaign were quick to respond with an attack on Stefanowski and characterized the super PAC’s backers as Stefanowski’s “Trump-supporting allies.”
“This attack from Bob Stefanowski and his Trump-supporting allies is everything Connecticut voters hate about politics,” said DiNardo. “Gov. Lamont has a zero tolerance for unethical behavior — he fired the individual involved, commissioned an independent investigation and immediately put in place strict policies to further protect taxpayer dollars.”
The Democrats made clear they are prepared to make an issue of Stefanowski’s tenure at UBS, a bank cited by an international watch group as financing companies with human rights issues.
“Bob Stefanowski has profited from assets linked to human rights abuses and was CFO of a bank whose propensity for tax evasion has its own Wikipedia page,” DiNardo said. “While Governor Lamont has been fixing the state’s broken budget, cutting taxes for working families and leading the best COVID response in the nation, Bob wants to defund half the state budget, devastating funding for public schools and state health care programs. Connecticut voters are going to see through his pandering.”
The “defund half the state budget” claim is a reference to Stefanowski’s proposal in 2018 to phase out the state income tax, a position he is not promoting in 2022.
Stefanowski could not be reached for comment on the Democrats’ counter attacks or the issues they raise about UBS. Kurantowicz said they are intended as a distraction.
“Democrats are desperate to change the conversation because they cannot find a way to defend this governor because he has consistently failed to deliver a shred of transparency or accountability,” Kurantowicz said. “And as a result Ned Lamont’s administration is facing a widespread investigation from the FBI and accusations of gender and racial discrimination within the highest levels of his administration.”
On the night he was fired, Diamantis said that McCaw, a Black woman, had been disrespected by top Lamont aides. McCaw never contradicted Diamantis but said her relationship with the governor had been excellent. She resigned last month for a municipal job.