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Democratic chairwoman owned Eversource stock when voting to remake State Pier for the utility

By the time Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state party chairwoman who was serving on the board of the Connecticut Port Authority, voted in early 2020 on a rich deal to remake State Pier for utilities Eversource and Ørsted, the agency was already deeply mired in scandal.

A chairman and a former chairman of the port authority board had resigned, auditors had discovered a lack of accounting controls and news stories were reporting about jobs and contracts given to friends.

We now know the attorney general continues to investigate whistleblower complaints from the port authority at that time, and the state Office of Ethics is likely reviewing agency actions.

So wouldn't you think that DiNardo, who was certainly appointed to the port authority board as a political operative and not for her deep professional knowledge of ports, would have refrained from voting to spend tens of millions of public dollars for a project benefiting Eversource, a Connecticut utility in which she holds stock?

Whether in violation of ethics laws or not, you would think the woman who runs the dominant political party in the state would see the bad optics in voting to have a scandal-engulfed agency give an enormous subsidy to a utility she's invested in.

When I put a question to her this week about her vote to benefit Eversource, through a spokesperson for the state party, she responded in a brief statement in which she said her Eversource stock is part of a diverse portfolio.

She said she included it in required public financial disclosures and that is in compliance with ethics laws.

She wouldn't respond to any of my questions, like how many shares of Eversource stock she owns or how she arrives at the conclusion it is in compliance with ethics laws.

She never asked for a formal opinion about it from the state Office of State Ethics, because it would have been given to me when I asked.

Instead I got from the office the last opinion they've written on a similar situation of stock ownership, in 1989, for a public official whose husband owned a small number of shares of what was then Northeast Utilities, the electric utility predecessor to Eversource.

The ethics office said then, in finding no ethics violations, the husband's stock ownership was a small number of shares and the action to benefit the utility, at a rate of about $1 million a year, would likely benefit ratepayers not shareholders.

Presumably every shareholder of Eversource might see some benefit from DiNardo's vote to have the port authority invest what could be more than $120 million in public money to benefit the utilities' wind business.

I look at this as just more of the ugliness of a utility with such long tentacles reaching into state government, including an army of lobbyists in Hartford.

To get some payment in lieu of taxes from Eversource for its use of New London property, the city's mayor had to sign a pledge to say nice things about the State Pier deal, like a trained circus dog, whenever the utility asks him to.

How many businesses in the state demand and get that kind of acquiescence from politicians? Woof.

Gov. Ned Lamont's chief of staff, Paul Mounds, is a former registered lobbyist for Eversource. A senior policy adviser for former Gov. Dannel Malloy is now an executive in the offshore wind division of Eversource.

Woosh goes the revolving door.

You can begin to see how unsavory the deal is in which the state agrees to spend more than $120 million — money that could be used to build schools or bridges — on a project to help a rich utility make more money.

The rebuild of the pier has nothing to do with the expensive wind-generated electricity that the state has agreed must be purchased by electric customers. The utilities are going to construct their profitable wind farms for the entire Northeast whether or not this state subsidizes the pier project.

There are much more troubling ethics worries about the deal to rebuild State Pier than the vote by DiNardo. One port authority board member who voted yes with DiNardo owns industrial real estate nearby. The Office of State Ethics is reviewing that member's potential conflict.

Even more lucrative was the sweet consulting deal granted to the employer of a former board member, which resulted in a $523,000 "success" fee beyond the normal payments. The ethics office has not confirmed a review but is believed to be investigating.

If you run into Chairwoman DiNardo, ask her how her Eversource stock is doing and see if she'll say how many shares she owns.

She wouldn't tell me.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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