Lamont, Stefanowski joust over Republicans working for Saudis
Governor Ned Lamont said on Friday that Republican Bob Stefanowski’s advice for Neom, a company founded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called into question his opponent’s fitness and independence.
Lamont’s comments were the first since Stefanowski confirmed Wednesday that he hid his job at Neom, a client of a consulting firm that allowed him to largely self-fund his gubernatorial campaign.
“I can see why someone running for office wanted to hide that from the public,” Lamont said. “I think it raises real questions about his judgment and his independence.”
Responding to reports from Hearst Connecticut, Stefanowski acknowledged approaching the Saudis in late 2018, shortly after Saudi agents killed Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the regime.
“I think the signing of the deal with the Saudis, right after Khashoggi’s assassination, raises questions about judgment,” Lamont said.
At the time, Stefanowski had just lost his first gubernatorial race and was looking for consulting work. He started working for Neom in 2019 when the CIA concluded that Khashoggi’s death was most likely ordered by the crown prince.
Interviewed after a late afternoon campaign stop at a turkey farm in Sterling on Friday, Stefanowski declined to respond directly to Lamont’s attacks on his judgment or independence.
“Governor. Lamont is no one to question my judgement,” Stefanowski said.
He reiterated his criticism of Lamont for contracting the state with Sema4, a company in which a venture capital firm co-founded by first lady Annie Lamont had invested.
But the Saudi revelation turned the script on a Stefanowski forward line in 2022 – that Lamont and his wife weren’t fully transparent about their finances.
Stefanowski said it wasn’t until he was approached by Hearst Connecticut that he asked Neom for permission to confirm he was a client. He said he had been bound by a nondisclosure agreement.
“The reason I leaked it is because it was made public by some other means,” he said. “I have to put my clients first. And I wasn’t going to divulge. I wasn’t going to break my NDA.
He gave no explanation of how simply disclosing they were a client would have jeopardized part of Neom, a project the crown prince announced in 2017 to global fanfare.
“It’s not my decision to take. I put my clients first,” he said.
The Lamonts say they disclosed all sources of their income in their annual declarations of financial interests, as required by the state code of ethics. Their repositories are public.
Additionally, they disclosed the identities of the companies in which Annie Lamont’s company, Oak HC/FT, is invested, whether or not those investments produced income for the Lamonts.
On that list is Sema4, one of four companies that won fast-track, no-tender contracts to provide COVID-19 testing in the early months of the pandemic.
The Lamonts say they got no income from Sema4, which plummeted in value. From a high of nearly $26 per share in February 2021, it closed Friday at 86 cents.
Stefanowski admitted he was still working for Neom and traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. He says he reduced his work by 98%, without saying whether his Neom income has also dropped by 98%.
“Looks like Bob is still on the payroll. At the same time, he is running for public office,” Lamont said. “So I’m not entirely sure if he’s really working right now or not. I think he’s campaigning pretty much full time. But that brings up questions. The Saudis are trying to get involved in our political process from a long way off. That’s why I’m thinking of letting things work out. But those are the questions I have.
Lamont said Stefanowski was hiding his ties to the Saudis, who recently cut oil production to force higher prices, while the Republican blamed Democrats for raising gas prices.
Until Wednesday, Stefanowski had not disclosed any source of income he had earned through his consulting firm, Lolo. Last month, Stefanowski posted summary pages of the $36.8 million he and his wife said they earned in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
His consulting practice generated revenues well in excess of the millions he said he earned in 2016 and 2017, his final years as CEO of DFC Global, a payday loan company. His earnings then were $6.9 million and $9.7 million.
On Friday, Stefanowski suggested that Lamont was somehow tainted by Neom due to reported interest in investing in Neom by Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates.
“If the governor is going to say anything negative about me, he needs to talk about the fact that he took $100 million from Ray Dalio,” Stefanowski said.
Stefanowski was referring to the $100 million that Dalio’s family charity had pledged to the state, not Lamont, as part of a partnership to serve disaffected youth. The partnership was dissolved before moving forward, and the Dalio family pursues its goals through private philanthropy.
In April, Lamont released his summaries of his tax returns showing adjusted gross income that averaged $8.65 million per year in 2018, 2019 and 2020. He did not release taxes for 2021. , for which he had requested an extension.
“I have now revealed everything,” Stefanowski said. “I have disclosed my 2021 taxes. I have started disclosing important client information.
Lamont, whose submission deadline was Oct. 15, is expected to publish the 2021 abstracts.
Lamont and Stefanowski largely self-fund their campaigns.
Reports filed late Tuesday night for the three-month period ending Sept. 30 showed the Democratic governor and Republican challenger were spending at a record pace: $14.8 million by Lamont’s campaign and $9.2 million by dollars by that of Stefanowski.
While the governor’s tax returns showed enough investment income to pay for his campaign, Stefanowski said Lamont should say what assets, if any, he sold to fund his re-election.