Hartford Business Journal: Former House Speaker Aresimowicz returns to state Capitol, lobbying for one of CT’s most influential firms
March 14, 2022
HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Gaffney, Bennett and Associates Inc. Managing Partner Jay Malcynsky (left) with the newest recruit to his New Britain-based lobbying firm, former House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, who is also head coach of the Berlin High School football team.
As the former Democratic House speaker for four years up until January 2021, and House majority leader prior to that, Joe Aresimowicz was, perhaps, the most powerful political leader in the state outside the governor.
Now, the 51-year-old Berlin native — who was in the middle of every major budget and political issue during his time in office — is back at the Legislative Office Building in a different role.
Following in the footsteps of five of the six House speakers who preceded him, Aresimowicz is now a full-time lobbyist and is mixing it up with his former colleagues, but working on behalf of his clients instead of constituents.
He was hired last year by New Britain-based Gaffney, Bennett and Associates Inc., one of the state’s largest and most influential lobbying shops that has been led since 1984 by Managing Partner Jay Malcynsky.
Under the state’s revolving-door statute, Aresimowicz was barred from directly lobbying for the firm in 2021, but he was allowed to recruit new clients. He’s already played the rainmaker role, helping Gaffney Bennett recruit five to 10 new clients over the past year.
Now he’s back at the state Capitol, which is still under some COVID-19 restrictions that are slowly easing.
Aresimowicz, a Democrat who spent 16 years representing the 30th House district in the Connecticut General Assembly, is a former union president and was seen as an ally of organized labor while in the House. Malcynsky is a well-known Republican lawyer.
Bipartisanship, while it may be out of vogue nationally, is a smart business strategy for an advocacy firm trying to maintain and grow its industry-leading market share in the state’s $91 million lobbying industry, dominated mostly by small shops.
In the 2019-2020 reporting period, Gaffney Bennett reported $10.2 million in total lobbying compensation, according to records from the Connecticut Office of State Ethics, which tracks industry spending. That was double the revenue of its closest competitor, Sullivan & LeShane Inc., which reported $4.7 million in revenue in the same time period.
So far during the 2021-2022 reporting period, Gaffney Bennett reported $5.5 million in total compensation, still more than double its closest competitor, ethics data shows.
In his new role, Aresimowicz is representing 18 of Gaffney Bennett’s 86 clients, including some of the most powerful corporations and interest groups in Hartford: AT&T, Eversource, Hartford HealthCare, PepsiCo, Pitney Bowes and Webster Bank.
He’s also working on getting additional funding this year for the social services nonprofit Roca — which serves young, at-risk women — for its expansion into Hartford and potential launch in New Haven. The ask is $750,000.
Roca was one of the first clients Aresimowicz helped recruit.
“I worked very hard to get them,” Aresimowicz said of his meeting with Roca’s top leadership over several visits. “Our hope is to talk to legislators and at least get some planning money to see if we can expand up to New Haven.”
Aresimowicz was in high demand after he left office. He said he had about a dozen job offers that ran the gamut from being a lobbyist for other firms to working in insurance, health care and for local companies inside and outside of the state.
He said the decision to join Gaffney Bennett and the firm’s nine other lobbyists was an easy one after he sat down with Malcynsky.
“After speaking with Jay, I think it’s a natural fit for me,” said Aresimowicz, who is also the head coach of the Berlin High School football team. “Jay is honest and fair and my guiding principle was always about fairness and I always tried to achieve fairness by working with people in an upfront and honest way.”
Connecticut lobbyists are well-paid: The median salary for Connecticut lobbyists as of January 2022 was $126,964, according to Salary.com, with many earning more than $200,000 annually.
And their influence goes deep.
For example, a Brown University study published in December found that energy companies spent over $24 million in Connecticut on lobbying over an eight-year period (from 2013 to 2020) to defeat or water down clean energy legislation.
Gov. Ned Lamont last year had to abandon plans to pass a regional cap-and-trade program that aimed to reduce greenhouse gases because he couldn’t muster enough support in the legislature. He later signed an executive order — bypassing legislative approval — that accomplished some of his clean energy goals.
Aresimowicz said he knows well the power that money and lobbyists play in state government, but without honesty and trust, both are useless.
“As a lobbyist, if you were to ever break that trust and provide information [to lawmakers] that was not accurate, that’s it,” Aresimowicz said. “I know, firsthand, that legislators would not deal with you anymore. You have to establish those relationships and that is what I’ve done. It’s all about getting to know people.”
Malcynsky, who during his career advised former Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr. when he was a U.S. senator and John Rowland when he was governor, said Aresimowicz was hired to focus primarily on business development and municipal and federal issues on behalf of his clients.
It was Aresimowicz’s reputation as a dealmaker, someone who knows the legislative process and the likability factor that swayed Malcynsky to bring him on board, he said.
“Some legislators, frankly, don’t make great lobbyists,” Malcynsky said. “That’s because they have taken in that one perspective for so long that they have a hard time making the transition. It really depends on the individual. Joe is the kind of person who made the transition easily. He has a very friendly personality, is very smart, and knows when to jump into an issue and when to listen.”
Lobbying is usually a profession that relies on in-person contact, but the industry has had to adjust during the pandemic. COVID-19 forced lobbyists and members of the public out of the Legislative Office Building last year; business was conducted virtually on Zoom and other platforms.
The pandemic may have also had an impact on lobbying spending, although not a big one. Lobbyists reported $91.1 million in compensation in 2019-2020, which was down about 3.5% from the previous two-year period, ethics data shows.
However, COVID restrictions are easing. Limited access is now allowed in the Legislative Office Building and state Capitol and things could open up more as it gets later in the session, which runs until May 4.
Public hearings are still happening virtually.
Those who know Aresimowicz say his strengths are his knowledge of the legislative process and how to get deals done.
“Let’s be candid here. He was the speaker of the House. He knows the legislative maze and, in that respect, he will certainly hit the ground running,” said state Sen. Joan Hartley (D-Waterbury), co-chair of the Commerce Committee. “He knows the legislators, the governor’s staff, and most of all he knows the process.”
Similarly, James Paolino, principal with the Hartford lobbying firm FOCUS Government Affairs, said lobbying was a perfect fit for Aresimowicz.
“All of us pretty much have a background in something, either having worked for the House or Senate or governor. Basically, it takes an understanding of the process,” said Paolino, a lobbyist for more than 20 years. “From day one, Joe has that better than most people. He has fantastic connections and is a great asset to Gaffney Bennett. The key for him will be to build new relationships with the new people there. If he does that, he will be enormously successful for a long time coming.”