Hundreds, even thousands of groups successfully follow Connecticut’s ethics and lobbing laws, so why do Excel Bridgeport, Inc. and some of the biggest corporate leaders in Fairfield County have such a hard time complying with the rules the rest of us have to live by?
Since it was incorporated, much of what Excel Bridgeport has been doing could be considered lobbying.
Beginning in January 2011, Meghan Lowney actively worked to persuade the Connecticut State Board of Education to attempt its illegal takeover of the Bridgeport School System. In fact, over the six months leading up to the State Board of Education’s illegal takeover, Lowney engaged in numerous communications with state officials and yet neither Lowney, Nate Snow (Chair, CT Teach for America) or Excel Bridgeport ever registered to lobby Connecticut state government, as required.
During the recent 2012 legislative session, Excel Bridgeport, as well as its leadership and staff worked hard to pass Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill, as well as more targeted efforts to help the Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education. Despite that, Excel Bridgeport, its directors and its staff failed to register in January, February, March, April and most of May.
More than two weeks after the end of the 2012 Legislative session, Excel Bridgeport finally filed the required papers, listing Jorge Cabrera as the organization’s lead lobbyist. The initial paperwork said that the group’s executive director, Maria Zambrano, was also going to file the necessary paperwork, but so far she has failed to and her application is listed as “still pending.”
Although the group registered, it has still failed to fill out the required reporting documents.
Furthermore, neither Meghan Lowney nor Nate Snow has registered, although they were the two who had the most significant contact with state officials.
For the record, the Bridgeport Partnership for School Success, Inc. was created in December 2010 and then changed its name to Excel Bridgeport Inc. in September 2011.
According to its incorporation papers, Meghan Lowney, the Executive Director of the Zoom Foundation (the personal foundation of a Fairfield County billionaire) was registered as Excel Bridgeport, Inc.’s founding president and Nathan Snow, the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Teach for America Chapter served as the organization’s founding vice president. Lowney’s work and home addresses, in Fairfield, were used as the organization’s legal address.
Although they apparently didn’t take the time to properly amend their legal documents, at some point over the last couple of years, Nathan Snow became Excel’s president, Jonathan Hayes (Executive, Meetinghouse Productions) became treasurer and Joel Green (Partner, Green & Gross, PC) became secretary of Excel Bridgeport, Inc.
Meanwhile, the company’s directors became Robert Francis (Executive Director, RYASAP), Carl Horton, Jr. (Consultant, Accenture), Scott Hughes (City Librarian, Bridgeport Public Library), Meghan Lowney (Executive Director, ZOOM Foundation) and Joseph McGee (Vice President, Fairfield County Business Council).
Even after repeated columns about this issue, Excel Bridgeport Inc. continues to engage in activities that a reasonable person would consider lobbying.
Earlier this summer, Excel Bridgeport Inc. and the Bridgeport Public Library announced the “Great Bus Tour for Better Bridgeport Schools.” The effort, which included at least five sessions around the City, included one and a half hour “education” programs and refreshments.
According to Jorge Cabrera, Excel’s community organizer, Excel Bridgeport co-sponsored the event with the Bridgeport Library saying “We are very excited about this tour as we engage Bridgeport parents regarding improving the public schools. We firmly believe that change can happen and that our schools can be a model of success. We anticipate a vigorous discussion around the issues of education change but know that if parents have an honest facilitator who can help them carve out a “space” in which they can grow as leaders, learn to advocate for their children and city and are supported that they can achieve significant, systemic, long-term change in their schools that can transform a generation. Our bus tour is a piece of that larger vision we are working toward every day!”
The publicity material failed to note that Bridgeport’s City Librarian is also a Director of Excel Bridgeport or where the money for the effort was coming from. Under Connecticut law, if the bus tour included any discussions about persuading the state, then Excel Bridgeport could have violated the law by not properly reporting those expenses. In addition, if lobbying did take place, it raises significant ethical and legal issues if the City Librarian, the City Library or any public resources were used during the “bus tour.”
Since the Office of State Ethics cannot comment on ongoing investigations, it is not clear if Excel Bridgeport is or is not under investigation for lobbying violations leading up to the State Department of Education’s illegal takeover, whether they engaged in illegal lobbying during the recent legislative session or whether Excel Bridgeport Inc., its board of directors or its staff continue to violate the spirit and the letter of Connecticut law.
And violations do not come cheap. Failing to follow Connecticut’s lobbying law can result in fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
And perhaps the biggest question of all remains the mystery.
Why do these people appear to believe that they are above the law?