Who are the secret interests lobbying for Connecticut's casinos?
By David Collins
Publication: The Day
Published 07/25/2010 12:00
It calls itself the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs, and it jumped headlong into New England gambling politics earlier this month, filing a lengthy legal appeal of the pending federal recognition of Long Island's Shinnecock Indians.
The appeal with the U.S. Department of the Interior, filed "on behalf" of 18,000 gaming workers at Mohegan Sun and Foxwooods Resort Casino, claims the Shinnecocks should not be recognized because they are "financially supported solely, directly and for the benefit of" the developers who want to help them build a casino on Long Island.
Of course, the fact that the Shinnecocks may be financially supported by casino developers shouldn't surprise anyone, least of all the folks at the Department of the Interior.
What is shocking is that this Connecticut coalition, which surfaced out of the blue to challenge the Shinnecocks, won't say who its members or backers are or where its own money is coming from.
Both the Mohegan Indians and Mashantucket Pequots have been quick to distance themselves from the new group, already branded "shadowy" in some accounts.
The Connecticut tribes are surely no doubt sensitive to the notion that they would in any way be behind efforts to derail another tribe's progress toward federal recognition.
"The Mohegan Tribe has nothing whatsoever to do with the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs," a Mohegan spokesman said bluntly in a statement. A Mashantucket Pequot spokesperson said only they heard about the group through news accounts.
The front person for the coalition is Matthew Hennessy, former chief of staff and political director for disgraced former Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez. Hennessy last made the news earlier this summer as a defense witness at the trial in which Perez was convicted on multiple felony charges.
The work for the coalition, Hennessy told me last week, is one of a number of "advocacy issues" his firm, Tremont Public Advisors, has done for a variety of "corporate interests" since he stopped working for the former mayor about a year ago.
He declined to name any of his other clients.
Attorney Derek Donnelly of Suffield, who signed the extensive appeal the coalition filed with the Department of the Interior against the Shinnecocks, is also a former Perez aide and a one-time unsuccessful candidate for the General Assembly.
Donnelly declined to talk about his work for the coalition when I talked to him last week, saying he has been told not to speak with the press.
Chris Cooper, a former spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell and a current spokesman for the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, has been hired by the coalition as a communications specialist.
Cooper, strangely, also declined to talk on the record about the coalition or its membership and referred me to Hennessy. Cooper did say, though, that neither Rell nor Fidele have anything to do with the coalition.
Hennessy told me that the coalition and its members are also concerned about developments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that could lead to new competition for Connecticut's casinos, but he said they acted promptly in the case of the Shinnecocks because the clock on appeals started with the final recognition imposed this month on the tribe.
A judge last week already gave the Shinnecocks, who have been seeking recognition since 1978, some good news in regards to the appeal filed by the coalition and another fled by a separate Long Island tribe, suggesting there could be some resolution of the issues by September.
The Shinnecocks are reportedly considering a variety of locations for a casino if their recognition is made final, from sites near their reservation in the Hamptons, on the north fork of Long Island, to more populated areas in Suffolk and Nassau counties.
Indeed, a large Long Island casino close to New York could be as troubling to the Connecticut casinos as one in Massachusetts.
Hennessy said some members of the coalition may or may not choose to identify themselves sometime soon.
I asked him whether the coalition's work and efforts at lobbying on behalf of Connecticut's casino interests aren't tainted by the secrecy.
After all, disclosure and transparency are mainstays of most lobbying ethics rules.
No, was his short answer.
"I think the important thing is our goals," he said. "What we want to accomplish and our mission are transparent."
The longer contributing coalition members choose to remain anonymous, the more compromised they will be when they come forward or finally get identified.
And revelation, in this case, seems inevitable.
If you are going to lobby in secret, you better do it really well.
This is the opinion of David Collins.