Gov. Ned Lamont’s second inaugural ball was subsidized by $515,000 in gifts to his office that ranged from $5,000 to $25,000, many from companies and groups that are regulated by Connecticut or do business with the state.
Underwriting inaugural balls long has been deemed by state ethics lawyers as a permissible gift to the state, exempt from bans on personal gifts to state officials or restrictions on contributions to campaigns for governor or other state offices.
A full accounting of the ball’s finances is not yet not available, but the governor’s office provided CT Mirror with a list of the 28 gifts provided or pledged by entities whose officials were invited to a cocktail hour with Lamont before the ball.
Donors included utilities, insurers, a trash hauler, a beer distributor, manufacturers of helicopters and jet engines, trade associations representing nursing homes and optometrists, and a construction union that endorsed Lamont’s reelection.
Four years ago, Lamont’s inaugural committee raised about $350,000 from sponsors to offset the cost of a $786,000 ball at the Connecticut Convention Center that was otherwise financed by sales of tickets.
The party this year was at The Bushnell, the performing arts center across the street from the state Capitol. Tickets were $200, with half-price admission for attendees 30 and younger.
“I think we had 1,400 people there. It made it affordable for a lot of people, thanks to the generosity of the corporate community, making it possible for more people to go to the inaugural,” Lamont said Thursday. “I think that was good.”
Inaugural gifts have not been a major ethics issue in Connecticut, a state that adopted a system to publicly finance campaigns in 2005 as a means to diminish the influence of money in campaigns. State contractors are barred from contributing to state campaigns.
Current law places no limits on gifts that state contractors or any other individual or entity can give in support of a state event, such as the inaugural ball. It is by far the biggest exception to a ban on gifts. Other exceptions are modest, such as accepting no more than $50 in food or drink over a year.
“I feel like it is something we should take a look at,” said Cheri Quickmire, the executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut.
The governor’s office voluntarily set the limit at $25,000.
Eversource, the largest electric utility in Connecticut, gave $25,000, as did Avangrid, whose subsidiaries include United Illuminating, Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas. Dominion, the Virginia-based owner of the Millstone nuclear power plant, gave $15,000.
Four health insurers are on the list: With its corporate parent CVS, Aetna gave $25,000, as did Cigna and United HealthCare; Anthem gave $10,000. Travelers, the commercial property casualty giant, gave $25,000.
The gifts were solicited by a committee led by Kathy Damato, the administrator of the governor’s office who also worked for Lamont’s predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Assisting her were Brian Durand, Michael Mandell and Steve Kinney, all government affairs advisors acting as volunteers.
Presidential and gubernatorial inaugurals generally are financed by a mix of public and private money, with governments paying for the formal swearing-in ceremonies, such as the inauguration of Lamont and other statewide constitutional officers at the State Armory.
But inaugural balls and concerts typically are underwritten by sponsors. Presidential inaugural committees disclose contributions to the Federal Elections Commission. President Joe Biden’s inaugural committee raised $61.8 million; Donald J. Trump’s, $106 million; and Barack Obama’s, $53 million.
Some of the million-dollar donors to the Biden inaugural also gave to Lamont, albeit on a much smaller scale: Bank of America, $5,000; AT&T, $10,000; Comcast, $15,000; and Lockheed Martin, $25,000.
Lockheed Martin is the owner of Sikorsky. Raytheon, the owner of Pratt & Whitney, gave $10,000.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Maura Healy raised about $1.8 million for a basketball-themed inaugural party at TD Garden, home of the Celtics, according to MassLive.com. Like Lamont, she capped contributions at $25,000.
Arizona’s new governor, Katie Hobbs, disclosed raising $1.5 million, including a $250,000 contribution from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, according to news reports and Common Cause.
As have previous Connecticut governors, Lamont’s office consulted with the Office of State Ethics before raising money for the inaugural ball. The office responded with the opinion first drafted in 1998 by its predecessor, the State Ethics Commission.
“The Commission will consider the inauguration and any related activities to be official state functions. Therefore, any goods or services provided to support these events will be a ‘gift to the state’ and exempt from the gift limits contained in the Code. As a result, you are not restricted from soliciting funds from any entity, including registered lobbyists and/or persons who have business before the Office of the Governor.”
In 1998, the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland voluntarily capped contributions at $5,000, which the Ethics Commission applauded: “Your decision … to limit contributions to $5,000 and to make available the list of contributors will help to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
■Aetna (CVS)■Avangrid■Cigna■Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities■Deloitte■Eversource ■Google■Hartford Distributors■Laz Parking■Lockheed Martin■Murphy Road Recyclers■Travelers■United HealthCare■Webster Bank
■Stanley Black & Decker
■Boehringer Ingleheim■Comcast■Connecticut Association of Optometrists■Dominion■LIUNA■Mohegan Tribal Nation
■Anthem■AT&T■Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation■Raytheon
■Bank of America■Nestlé Waters■HDR
This story originally appeared on the website of The Connecticut Mirror, www.ctmirror.org.