Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Commissioner Esty's Speaking Fees

Dan Esty, the commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, is taking heat for not disclosing that he was paid to give speeches to businesses that his department regulates. The speaking engagements were before he became commissioner. State regs say that as commissioner he has to recuse himself from participating in issues concerning companies he did business with within five years. The Hartford Courant reports:

In 2009, Esty received a $7,500 speaker's fee from United Illuminating, the utility company that supplies electricity to southwestern Connecticut and the New Haven area.

Meanwhile, Esty also received $10,000 fees from two other corporations in Connecticut — UTC Power, a fuel cell company that is part of United Technologies Corp., and ING, the financial services corporation — for speeches about three years ago.

Esty had submitted a recusal list of companies he had consulted for. But his spokesman drew a distinction between consulting and speaking. The spokesman said:

"... There's a real distinction between the kind of relationship you have over time and working closely with the management of a company [as a consultant], as opposed to the one-time 'come in, give a talk, leave' relationship [of speech-making]. It's just very different."

I don't know what the letter of the law says, but in general I buy that argument. On a different scale, I do consulting work and I give speeches, both for money, and to me it's clear. If you're consulting for someone, you are working for them. If you are giving a speech, it's not even remotely the same. it's more analogous to being a freelance writer who is in high demand. Someone pays you for a piece, you write it and submit it, and you move on. Someone calls up you (or your agent), asks you to give a talk, you give it, and you move on. But again, that might not be what the law says.


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