Editorial: CT Gov. Lamont and conflicts of interest

Governor Ned Lamont and his wife, Ann, walk in a parade after his swearing in outside of the Capitol Building in Hartford on January 9, 2019.

Governor Ned Lamont and his wife, Ann, walk in a parade after his swearing in outside of the Capitol Building in Hartford on January 9, 2019.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

Gov. Ned Lamont is getting questions about the state’s investment in a COVID-testing company with ties to his wife, Ann Lamont. Actually, the Lamonts took pains to do the right thing in this case. But the questions will continue as long as the state’s first couple have a hand in business.

Here’s a little background:

Mrs. Lamont is a venture capitalist whose firm favors health care and financial services startups. It invested in Sema4 of Stamford in 2019, before the world had heard of COVID. The state had already loaned millions of dollars to Sema4, during the Malloy administration, to lure it to Connecticut.

Then came the pandemic. Gov. Lamont declared a public emergency in March 2020. Soon hospitals were full, COVID tests were taking a long time, and the state was looking for local laboratories to run them quickly. Among those that qualified was Sema4. It became the fourth company to sign a contract with the state.

State officials say that neither the governor nor his wife were involved in Sema4’s selection or in the contract negotiations. Indeed, the Lamonts had come up with a plan, shortly after Ned became governor, to stay out of such deals. Their plan got the blessing of the State Board of Ethics in May 2019.

Also, the labs were chosen by a committee of scientists “who probably were unlikely to know about Ann Lamont’s take in Sema4,” a state official said.

The Lamonts have volunteered to donate any gains from the deal to charity. The governor says the family has not made any profit from the investment so far.

What labs such as Sema4 are paid for COVID testing is no secret. In August, the comptroller’s office released all the contracts with financial data. Those records show that Quest Diagnostics has been paid the most: $84.2 million. Sema4 came in second at $17 million.

How much profit the Lamonts could eventually make from the investment in Sema4 and when that money will go to charity are legitimate questions. But given that the Lamonts have contributed $493,000 a year to charity in the past, it seems a safe bet they’ll keep that promise.

Another legitimate question is whether companies with ties to Ann Lamont should avoid bidding on state contracts. Yes, they should, and yes, they usually do. Before COVID-19 struck Connecticut, none of those companies had state contracts.

But then came the deadly virus and a desperate search for labs that could quickly deliver test results. It would not have served the public if Sema4 sat this one out.

Transparency can sometimes take a back seat at the State Capitol. But we think the Lamonts handled this particular case as well as they could at the time.

They’ll need to do a lot more explaining, though, because this deal is complicated, and the questions aren’t going away.

Indeed, a different business question arose this week. Another company Ann Lamont’s firm had once invested in, Digital Currency Group, is getting state funding if it creates hundreds of jobs in Connecticut.

And so the governor was put on the defensive once again, even though his wife’s firm had sold its investment in Digital Currency Group earlier this year and he had recused himself from any talks about the company.

No wonder her firm is looking outside of Connecticut for investments now.

Public-private partnerships are never simple, at the state or personal level.