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The term “astroturfing” comes to mind when reading recent testimony given in favor of a bill under consideration in Connecticut, titled, “An Act Establishing the Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative,” a proposal with a seemingly well-intentioned name and an obscured agenda: to handout government money to the highly lucrative defense contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat.
The Trojan Horse here—the bill, among other “investments,” would result in the allocation of $100-million in state grants to fund infrastructure projects at the submarine maker’s Groton shipyard—is not lost on skeptical and genuinely grassroots organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Smaller Manufacturers, which said taxpayers have reason to “fear the complexity of this bill is masking a hidden agenda.”
“The Federal government pays submarine manufacturers billions of dollars to deliver and service their products and these manufacturers can well afford their own capital spending,” the organization said in written testimony recorded April 2. “During a time of fiscal distress, this is an insult to the Connecticut taxpayer. Imagine what we could accomplish if we gave our technical highs schools a $100M grant.”
The organization concluded: [T]he deck seems heavily stacked toward large corporations.”
But you’d never get that sense from reading testimony given by the innocently titled Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which never mentions Electric Boat by name or the $100-million grant to subsidize “acquisition of lands, buildings, machinery, equipment or any combination thereof.”
Instead, the workforce and business development nonprofit focuses on the bill’s apparent “outreach specific to underserved populations including young adults, women, and job seekers eighteen years of age and older from low income urban areas.”
“These underserved populations—including young women—represent voids in formal apprenticeship programs,” the group concludes.
But before you get all warm and fuzzy about the CCAT—an organization with a board of directors comprised of six older white men and one woman—and the bill the nonprofit is promoting, it’s worth looking into what the Connecticut Center For Advanced Technology really is and who this group really serves.
In 2015, CCAT’s president and CEO, Elliot Ginsberg, told Innovation Destination: Hartford, a promotional website designed to “showcase entrepreneurial success stories,” that he helped create CCAT last decade while serving as chief of staff for Congressman John Larson, a Democrat representing Connecticut’s first congressional district.
Larson, mind you, is a congressman well-financed with defense money: the nonprofit Center For Responsive Politics estimates Larson, who first entered office in 1999, has received nearly $650,000 in campaign donations from the defense industry since the late 1990s.
Larson has specifically benefitted from nearly $350,000 from Farmington, Conn.-based United Technologies, and $80,000 from Lockheed Martin, owner of Stratford, Conn.-based Sikorsky, a helicopter maker previously owned by United Technologies.
Lockheed is Larson’s number one contributor for the 2017-2018 election cycle, at $13,700. United Technologies is fifth, at $9,150.
By Ginsberg’s own account, the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology has been about promoting and supporting defense companies from the very beginning. This is an excerpt from the Innovation Destination article, quoting the CCAT president:
“‘When we were working in Washington, Congressman Larson and I spoke about how manufacturing was an important part of the economy in this region,’ Ginsberg explained. ‘We looked at where other sections of the country had success around manufacturing and innovation and engineering. We realized that they were typically part of large military base/research clusters.’
“Ginsberg continued, ‘In Connecticut, we have institutions like Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Hamilton Sundstrand. We have extraordinary aerospace and defense manufacturing strength in this region…So we needed to figure out: How do we create an organization focused on supporting the concentration of aerospace and defense manufacturing in the state, even if we don’t have major military bases?'”
Today, the organization’s ties to the defense industry are numerous and obvious.
CCAT’s “Advanced Manufacturing Center,” in fact, is located “[d]irectly behind the United Technologies Research Center in East Hartford,” as the organization’s website explains.
Browse through the biographies of CCAT staff and members of its board of directors, and you see a number of people with defense backgrounds.
Chief Financial Officer John Glidden, who received $177,000 in total annual compensation in 2016, according to CCAT’s most recently available IRS990 form, previously worked for United Technologies and its subsidiary Pratt & Whitney, a major engine supplier to Boeing.
Marketing and Public Relations Director Silvio Albino “served in positions of increasing responsibility at UTC’s Sikorsky.” Senior Engineer Jeffrey Crandall also has ties United Technologies.
Board member Michelle Allinson is president and owner of Cursor, “which serves the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Navy and General Dynamics in the acquisition of specialty metals.”
Another board member, Kevin Flanagan worked for a company that boasted Pratt & Whitney and the Department of Defense among its clients.
And CCAT’s Advanced Manufacturing Center director, Don Balducci—total annual compensation $160,000 in 2016—”has more than 40 years experience working in and managing national and international companies in industries including: aerospace and defense.”
On the topic of compensation, president and CEO Ginsberg is the highest paid CCAT employee, according to the IRS filing, with $246,000 in total compensation in 2016.
These strikingly high salaries—the seven highest paid employees at the “nonprofit” received more than $1.2-million in total compensation in 2016—are supported by taxpayer dollars. According to the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation, CCAT is “funded largely by federal grants.” The organization has also received funding from the state of Connecticut. Between 2012 and 2016, CCAT raised nearly $58-million, according to its most recently available 990 form, on average about $11.5-million a year.
Just last year, the organization signed a $6-million contract with the U.S. Air Force, according to the Northend Agent’s newspaper, “to fund development and use of tools for metal and composite materials manufacturing for Air Force supply chain companies, many of which are based in Connecticut.” Congressman Larson announced the five-year deal.
The group previously funded a study that found—surprise, surprise—”The defense industry’s importance to the Connecticut economy has only grown in recent years.”
Wealthy political donors like the Koch brothers take flak for using their fortunes to influence policy and the direction of the economy, but at least they can say they do it with their own money. When it comes to the defense industry, a sector long accustom to the government gravy train, even an organization like CCAT that exists to bolster defense contractors and their profits is paid for by taxpayers.
When it came time to submit testimony on the “Act Establishing the Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative,” the only other voice to testify strongly in support of the General Dynamics giveaway was Democratic state Sen. Cathy Osten, another dubious backer who’s called on the state to allocate $150-million to job training and infrastructure improvements at Electric Boat—something this new proposal appears poised to do.
Saying it is “imperative to Connecticut’s economy that we support Electric Boat,” Osten wrote that the “investments outlined in this legislation will have a tremendous impact in the training and development of the skilled workforce needed to meet the growing demands of Electric Boat and their 446 suppliers.”
She added: “I look forwarded to working with the leadership of this committee on this bill’s passage.”
Peter Gioia of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association gave a more muted endorsement, calling the proposal “one of several bills that would help solve the vexing challenge of closing the gap between employers and job seekers” and asked that “as the bill goes forward, manufacturers be included in the negotiations so that they can help shape and inform your work.”
The defense industry-enabling Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology asked that language be added to ensure that a “partnership” establishing a so-called workforce pipeline be “employer-led.”
The Connecticut Association of Smaller Manufacturers referenced at the beginning of this article, however, saw through the smokescreen of a bill being promoted as a means to serve the needs of struggling jobseekers and hardscrabble manufacturers.
“This bill speaks of making awards based on need,” its testimony read. “How exactly is need defined? Is it near-term needs of businesses to survive or is it the needs of the under and unemployed? Or, is it the needs of political appointees? Large corporations can produce a large number of jobs that pay a living wage and can be trained in a 5 to 26 week window. The downside is that defense work is fickle and cyclical. These jobs might not last the four-year pipeline. Is there a consequence if a partnership defaults on their agreement?”
Colleen Shaddox, an East Haddam activist and member of Together We Rise CT, cut to the chase even quicker:
“This legislation proposes to enrich a corporation at the expense of Connecticut taxpayers at a time when we are told that the state cannot afford to help…its neediest residents,” Shaddox wrote in her written testimony. “It deepens Eastern Connecticut’s reliance on the defense industry, which already gets far too many of our federal tax dollars and is vulnerable to political whim.”
Alex Nunes is an independent journalist based in Rhode Island. He has contributed reporting to NPR, Rhode Island Public Radio, The Providence Journal, and The Day of New London, Conn., among other news organizations. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a bachelor’s in sociology from Rhode Island College.
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