Vote 2022: Stefanowski confirms work on project backed by controversial Saudi crown prince

What does a $500 billion "city of the future" in Saudi Arabia have to do with the race for governor in Connecticut? Suddenly, a lot.
After weeks of silence, Republican Bob Stefanowski acknowledged he's a consultant for NEOM, an eco-friendly mega-city backed by controversial Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. MBS is linked to human rights abuses, including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Stefanowski acknowledged concerns with bin Salman’s human rights record, but said he signed on because it's an important green energy project.
"I do get concerned,” he said. “I got comfortable because the project I'm working on is a good project and it's going to help people."
Stefanowski refused to confirm the work for weeks, citing a “very, very strict exclusivity – non-disclosure agreement.” He broke his silence Wednesday afternoon, after Hearst Connecticut Media obtained documents linking Stefanowski to NEOM.
In a hastily-arranged virtual news conference, Stefanowski admitted he's been a consultant on the project for three years. The GOP candidate told reporters his involvement was purely based on his experience in corporate mergers.
"I'm kind of the financial guy – so what's the right structure? What's the right way to finance it? What is the right partners to partner with?” Stefanowski said. “Air Products, Inc. based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has teamed up with two Saudi companies – ACWA Power and NEOM – to build the largest green hydrogen facility in the world. The plant will be located in the Middle East as the unique combination of the sun during the day and wind at night provides the most effective conditions for renewable energy in the world.’'
NEOM is owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. Stefanowski would not say how much they've paid him – or whether he ever met personally with the Crown prince.
Stefanowksi earned $36 million in consulting fees over the past three years, according to tax returns he released this summer. On Wednesday, Stefanowski acknowledged NEOM is a major client, but also said "it's not a full-time job." The Republican candidate said his work with NEOM is "98%" completed now.
Democrats have also praised the NEOM project, including President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry. As for Gov. Ned Lamont, he brushed back questions about the news at a campaign event on Wednesday.
“Let me read the article,” he told reporters.
Lamont’s campaign is also staying quiet – for now.
“We are not commenting tonight,” said Jake Lewis, Lamont’s campaign spokesperson.
Stefanowski noted that Lamont’s close friend, Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, invested in NEOM.
“I think Gov. Lamont needs to be awfully careful about being hypocritical,” Stefanowski said.
Human rights advocates have condemned the Persian Gulf nation for oppressing dissent and the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday there would be “consequences” for Saudi Arabia for backing recent oil production moves that were seen as likely to help Russia in its war with Ukraine.
Yet the kingdom has also been a military and diplomatic partner and is seen as a counterbalance to Iran’s influence in the region to Iran.
Connecticut Democrats, including Gov. Ned Lamont’s campaign, have criticized Stefanowski for not revealing his consulting clients. “There’s no telling whose interests he truly represents,” Lamont’s campaign said in one written statement.
AP Wires contributed to this report.