July 16, 2012

Influence isn't a dirty word

Photo / Steve Laschever
Photo / Steve Laschever
Lobbyist Jay Malcynsky of Gaffney, Bennett and Associates is one of the premier influence peddlers at the state Capitol in Hartford. He has helped build his New Britain firm into the highest earning lobbying practice in the state with nearly 80 clients from wide range of industries, including banking, law, media and energy.
Photo / Pablo Robles

When Jay Malcynsky started practicing law with Brian Gaffney in the mid 1980s, lobbying wasn't a big part of their business.

The University of Bridgeport Law School graduate was a general practice lawyer focusing on criminal law, real estate transactions and local planning and zoning work. Influencing policymakers only represented about 10 percent of the work he did early on.

Nearly three decades later, things have changed dramatically.

Malcynsky has helped transform Gaffney, Bennett and Associates into one of the most powerful lobbying firms in the state, with nearly 80 clients from a wide range of industries including banking and finance, utilities, digital media, law, and health care.

In the 2011-2012 reporting period, the firm raked in $4.7 million from lobbying services at the state Capitol in Hartford, more than double the amount of its closest competitor, state ethics data shows.

With nine fulltime lobbyists on staff, many of the state's leading business and professional organizations turn to Malcynsky for help when a major issue that can make or break their business is being debated in Hartford.

Malcynsky said becoming one of the state's premier influence peddlers is a result of being frank with politicians and tackling the job in a non-partisan manner.

"Your stock and trade in this business is your reputation and integrity and willingness to be forthright," Malcynsky said. "Lobbyists at the end of the day are advocates. You are advocating for a client or cause and the manner in which you conduct yourself in that process becomes your reputation. The key is to treat facts as facts and not massage things too much that you are blurring the edges."

When the legislature is in session, Malcynsky will typically find himself involved in the biggest issues.

Most recently, Malcynsky's firm represented Northeast Utilities — a long time client — as it battled lawmakers over sweeping new storm preparedness legislation that was passed in response to the freak October snow storm that left some Connecticut residents without power for more than a week.

He also represents to the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association in its annual battle with the health care community over medical malpractice and tort reform.

Michael Walsh, the president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, said his organization hired Malcynsky more than 20 years ago when the state legislature was debating major tort reform in the late 1980s.

Although some of the legislation passed during that time was not favorable to the Trial Lawyers Association, which often fights in favor of victim's rights, Walsh said his organization was impressed with Malcynsky's efforts in making sure the association got its voice heard.

That's why the association has continued to employ Malcynsky as its chief lobbyist for more than two decades.

"What separates Jay from the pack is that he has enormous credibility," Walsh said. "He is a very sincere and honest guy. The legislator's have learned to respect him and I don't think Jay would ever say anything he doesn't really believe."

Malcynsky is also heavily involved with representing big companies seeking state aid or tax breaks to expand their presence in Connecticut.

Malcynsky said he was at the negotiating table when NBC Universal — another Gaffney, Bennett client — was in talks with the Malloy Administration to be part of the state's new "First Five," program that provides tax breaks, grants and loans to companies that add 200 or more jobs and invest millions of dollars in the state.

The result: in October Malloy announced NBC Sports was being granted a $20 million forgivable loan so the company could move its production facility from New York to Stamford, creating 450 new jobs in Connecticut.

"It was nice to be part of something that brings that many jobs to Connecticut," Malcynsky said.

Malcynsky, 58, is a native of the blue collar city of New Britain, where he spent most of his childhood. It's also where his law firm and lobbying practice have their headquarters.

Malcynsky said he got interested in politics during his college years in the 1970s at Fairfield University and the University of Bridgeport Law School, which is now the Quinnipiac University School of Law.

After graduating, he served as an attorney in the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. He also served as an attorney for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Malcynsky got his feet wet in politics in the early 1980s when he helped manage U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney's political campaigns. He also managed the re-election bids of U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson and U.S. Sen. Lowell P. Weicker, in 1984 and 1988, respectively.

It was in 1984 when Malcynsky, a registered Republican, started practicing law at a firm headed by Brian Gaffney. Within a year of joining the firm, Malcynsky and Gaffney branched out to start a lobbying practice called Gaffney, Bennett and Associates.

For the next three decades, Malcynsky helped build the practice into one of the most respected lobbying firms in Connecticut.

"I always liked public policy so it was a natural attraction to want to get involved with something related to government," Malcynsky said.

Of course, Malcynsky hasn't always been on the winning side of the battle. One of the most prominent issues he found himself in the middle of was the New England Patriots proposed move to Hartford in the late 1990s.

Malcynsky represented the team and Patriots owner Robert Kraft and was at the negotiating table with then Gov. John Rowland — a close ally and friend — when the Patriots proposed building a $375 million stadium in Hartford.

The deal eventually fell apart, and many accused Kraft and the Patriots of simply using Connecticut to leverage a better deal for a new stadium in Massachusetts.

Malcynsky said he is convinced the Patriots had real intentions to move to Hartford. The biggest roadblock to the deal, Malcynsky recalls, was the inability to deal with the environmental issues associated with building a football stadium downtown.

"In our zeal to get the deal done, I think there was a lack of appreciation from both the team and the state as to what would be involved in building this stadium in Hartford," Malcynsky said. "The environmental issues were significant and going to cause serious delays."

Outside the world of politics and law, golfing and fishing are among Malcynsky's hobbies. A boat owner and fisherman, Malcynsky said he enjoys spending time on the water in a few of his favorite spots including Old Saybrook, Block Island and Fishers Island. He also owns a house in Cape Cod.

Although he doesn't get on the course as much as he used too, Malcynsky, who is an 18 handicap, said he plays about a dozen rounds of golf a year. He's a member of the Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington.

He will also spend time with his wife Joni and five children who range in ages from 14 to 23.

Malcynsky said he isn't sure if any of his children will follow in his footsteps and pursue a career as a lobbyist. He wouldn't necessarily argue against it. However, he said he is concerned about the ever widening political divide between Republicans and Democrats in Connecticut and Washington D.C., which has turned politics into much more of a "blood sport," than it used to be.

But on balance, Malcynsky said he thinks the system works pretty well.

"It's organized chaos at best," Malcynsky said. "I think everyone gets frustrated from time to time but by and large I think most people are trying to do the right thing."

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