It’s a very valid question.
It certainly appeared that StudentsFirst, Excel Brideport, Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter and other groups pushing Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill engaged in lobbying activities that were not properly reported to the Office of State Ethics. If they did engage in those activities they could face significant penalties and fines for breaking Connecticut law.
The problem with answering the question is that there is a state law the exempts ethics complaints from Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law and sets up a different standard that give extensive protection to any group or person who is being charged with an ethics violation.
Innocent until proven guilty is the hallmark of our system of justice, but at least in criminal law, the public has a right to know whether someone has or has not been arrested.
But a very different standard exists when it comes to protecting public officials or those who may have violated the state’s ethics code.
Although these provisions were intended to protect people from being hit with frivolous ethics complaints, the present law actually prevents the public from getting information that it has a right to know.
However, a complaint alleging a violation of the Code of Ethics must remain confidential until one of the following criteria is met: (1) after a judge trial referee makes a finding of probable cause, (2) upon the request of the respondent or (3) upon an agreed resolution of the matter by consent order.
This means that while the Office of State Ethics is investigating a complaint, no one, including the person who filed the complainant, the respondent, any witnesses or the Board Members and staff of the Office of State Ethics may disclose the existence of a complaint.
And there is even a $10,000 penalty should the person filling the complaint reveals that he or she has taken that action.
Talk about a disincentive to step forward and file a complaint!
So the quick answer is that we don’t know if investigations are or are not presently taking place.
If I, for example, filed an ethics complaint against some or all of these “education reform” organizations, I could not inform my readers of that fact.
Furthermore, if someone else out there filed a complaint, they could not legally tell me that a complaint was pending.
And finally, if the Office of State Ethics began their own investigation, which is permitted under state law, then they could not inform anyone (except for the organization being investigated) that such an activity was taking place.
Now that I think about it, perhaps this is exactly the situation in which that great phrase comes into play — “Let me just say that I can neither confirm nor deny that the Office of State Ethics is investigating StudentsFirst or any other “education reform” group at this time.”
In fact, even if I could confirm such information, the law would prohibit me from doing so.
So there, for those of you who have been asking, you’ve got your answer.
Remember, he or she who writes the rules…. ah…. writes the rules.