How do you plead: Guilty or Ignorant? Choose carefully, lying will get you a bigger fine.

There are some who seem to think they are above the law.

And then there are those who act like they are above the law, and then attempt to claim they didn’t know they were doing something wrong when they are caught.

We’ll soon find out which strategy the education reform forces in Bridgeport will be taking.

Not satisfied with intentionally manipulating the wording of Bridgeport’s upcoming charter revision vote in order to confuse voters into supporting the change that will take away their own democratic rights and give Bridgeport’s mayor the power to appoint his own board of education, the proponents of the referendum appear to ducking their legal obligations under Connecticut’s campaign finance law.

Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee formed to support Mayor Finch’s effort to eliminate a democratically elected Board of Education, and replace it with one under his control, has filed a report that is so misleading that an official complaint has now been filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Connecticut law requires that every campaign treasurer and deputy treasurer must follow the state’s campaign finance laws.

Ignorance of the law is not a defense.

And as the law states;

“Any person who violates any provision of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $2,000 or twice the amount of the improper contribution or payment, whichever is greater.

Those who break the law on purpose face even stiffer fines.  The law goes on to read;

“Any person who “knowingly and willfully” violates any provision of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws is subject to criminal penalties of up to $5,000 in fines, or five years imprisonment, or both.

Last week, the political action committee known as Residents for a Better Bridgeport filed their October 10th campaign finance report with Bridgeport’s Town Clerk.  The Committee claimed that they raised $572 during the period, on top of the $100 that they had already raised.

Their report also claimed that they did not make any expenditure, whatsoever, to promote their cause.

But of course, Residents for a Better Bridgeport spent or encumbered tens of thousands of dollars in their ongoing campaign to pass the charter revision.

Just ask anyone who has received one of their three glossy mailings or has seen one of their new videos or even clicked on their website: http://www.residentsforabetterbridgeport.com/

Connecticut campaign finance law is based on the fact that voters have a fundamental right to know what candidates and political action committees are spending their money on.

Failure to disclose that information is one of the most serious offenses under Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.

And the law is particularly clear.

The campaign treasurer and deputy treasurer have the legal obligation to submit campaign finance reports that not only reveal any expenditures the committee has made, but they must also reveal any expenses that has been incurred but have not yet been paid.

Every few months, candidate committees and political action committees, like Residents for a Better Bridgeport, must submit a report of their activities.

There is even a whole section, “Section S,” that is included for the purpose of listing expenses incurred but not paid.

The directions for this legal document read, “The obligation to report expenses incurred arises when the committee enters into a written contract, promise or agreement to make expenditure.”

The State Election Enforcement Commission guide goes on to say, “For example, if a political committee purchases mailers that it distributes in June but is not billed for them until August, the committee would report the expense in Section S…If a committee incurs an expense but will not know the actual cost until it receives an invoice at a later date, it should still report the expenditure incurred in Section S in the period in which it was incurred and provide a good faith estimate of the amount. “

But Residents for a Better Bridgeport, which is the vehicle being used to support Mayor Finch’s initiative failed to report any expenditures or any agreement to make expenditures.

That is a huge violation, and now, the Treasurer for Residents for a Better Bridgeport, Lillian Wade and the Deputy Treasurer, Steve Stafstrom, are facing serious legal repercussions.

The committee failed to report any expenditures or plans to spend money for a website, yet they have a website which can be seen at http://www.residentsforabetterbridgeport.com/

The committee failed to report any expenditures or plans to spend money on mailings and yet they have produced three high cost direct mail pieces which can be seen on that same website.  Clearly they spent money or planned to spend money for the design, printing, data, mail-shop and postage related to those mailings.  In addition they illegally used a photo of President Obama and appear to have used municipal resources for political purposes (check out the photos of school property and the Mayor.)  It certainly appears that the Mayor and staff engaged in political activities on public time.

The committee also failed to report any expenditures or plans to spend money on the four, high quality video advertisements that can be found on the website and on a YouTube channel set up by the charter reform supporters.  To complete videos of this quality, expenditures would have needed to take place or, at least been planned, for expenses including script development, site identification, filming, editing and a variety of other expenses associated with the production of the videos.

The videos can be seen using the following links:

Bridgeport – Vote Yes – Length 3:54 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIVwdOvF98s&feature=plcp

Bridgeport – Vote Yes – Shorter Piece 1 Length 1:31 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sssdwlFJGes&feature=plcp

Bridgeport – Vote Yes Shorter Piece 2 – Length 1:55 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2y1xYkk_VNQ&feature=plcp

Bridgeport – Vote Yes Shorter Piece 3 – Length 1:31  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pjawn109CzE&feature=plcp

All: http://www.youtube.com/user/BportVoteYes

In addition, the Political Action Committee, Residents for a Better Bridgeport also violated campaign finance law by failing to include proper “paid for by” disclaimers on the videos.

There also appears to be illegal in-kind corporate contributions from Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company that runs Achievement First Bridgeport.

The video includes people who it implies are Bridgeport teachers.  However they are teachers employed by Achievement First.  Also, the videos are filmed in classrooms.  If those classrooms are in Bridgeport schools, it is an illegal use of municipal resources.  If the classrooms are in the Achievement First – Bridgeport School then it may very well be an illegal in-kind contribution of space.

Each of these violations carries significant penalties.

Together they paint a disturbing picture of a group of individuals who have joined together in an attempt to take away the democratic rights of Bridgeport citizens…

They call themselves, Citizens for a Better Bridgeport, but their alleged illegal activities have now earned them a full-fledged campaign finance complaint.

I know, because I submitted the complaint and the corresponding evidence to the State Elections Enforcement Commission earlier today.

  • Linda174

    Jon,

    Can we state here that two of the children in the video are the offspring of a Bridgeport BOE member, actually the board chair. Kelleher..isn’t that accurate?

    • Castles Burning

      The man talking to two high school students, who certainly look like siblings (where one who says that he is interested in a certain high school for next year), is the spouse or partner (I have heard both words used) of Professor Kelleher who has spoken at BOE meetings.

      • Apartheid First

        Wow, they’re doing the Adamowski rigged commenting, rigged lotteries, and rigged elections! But Vallas is clearly a veteran of this stuff.

    • jonpelto

      Correct and they say before things were bad – BUT THEY DIDN’T GO TO A BRIDGEPORT SCHOOL BEFORE!
      They just moved there!

      So not only are they the children of the Board Chair but whomever wrote the script had them lying on tape!

      • Linda174

        And names of the speakers are not provided? So the easily duped wouldn’t make a connection.

        Now she is the board chair and she will stay the board chair no matter how the vote goes? Is that correct?

        I am trying to figure out her motivation for pimping out her kids other than all the great benefits one gets from being in the Finch inner circle…you know..invites to blockbuster movies, rides in his fancy car, getting to meet Rhee’s husband this Sunday, the ex-NBA basketball star who has been implicated in a sexual encounter with a teenage girl:

        http://media.sacbee.com/smedia/2008/04/15/21/Phoenix_Police.source.prod_affiliate.4.pdf

    • Apartheid First

      This is unbelievable. She should be censored and removed.
      I was so disgusted when she was elected. But we know all about Bridgeport ballots and elections.

  • Julian

    It’s funny. Just about every Bridgeport school has a uniform policy, but these kids are in regular clothes.

    • Linda174

      Possibly it a special filming event on a weeknight or weekend…how could you get that completed during a school day?

    • Apartheid First

      Kids from central casting. Possibly some extras scooped up from the cutting-room floor of “Won’t Back Down, Bridgeport Edition.”

  • Linda174

    I wrote to the White House late last week:

    President Obama:

    Please view this on-line advertisement for a referrendum coming up in Bridgeport, CT, where voting yes turns the school board over to the mayor. It is worded in a tricky fashion and if you vote yes, you are losing an elected board.

    President Obama, do you know your photograph is being used in this advertisement to strip the citizens of Bridgeport of their rights to elect a school board?

    Sir, you are quoted in the ad saying: “We need to fix and improve our public schools, not throw our hands up and walk away from them.” Are they twisting your words for their own purposes?

    Mayoral control is a step towards privatization of our public schools. The people will not have a say while the wealthy, who place their children in private schools, will rule the roost. This is the Bloomberg play book; he must be advising mayors across our country.

    Did you give permission for your photograph to be used?

    Do you realize you are supporting a campaign to take away an elected board?

    Do you realize your support of this movement is another step towards the destruction of our democracy?

    Please answer.

    • Castles Burning

      Bravo for sending this to the White House and do let us know what response you receive.

  • Castles Burning

    Jonathan, Thanks for doing all of the work required to submit the complaint. Please keep us informed.

    Beyond the illegalities, I am tired of this same old “trumped up” message of how great the schools now are.

    I am also tired of hearing how high schools seniors FINALLY can take a college course when these programs have been in place for YEARS. And, to my knowledge, these courses were free. That is, HCC or UConn did not charge the students or the schools. Team Vallas is paying the universities for students to attend these classes so they are actually no longer free in the way that they used to be.

    Strategies to penetrate the falsehoods are needed.

  • Magister

    Has anyone seen Bridgeport article on the CEA homepage? It’s called “Teacher Morale Through the Roof:”

    http://blogcea.org/2012/10/16/teacher-morale-bridgeport/

    • guest

      CEA sold us down the river.

    • Linda174

      Morale really improves when you are facing a possible turnaround and the loss of your job and the Governor and Commissioner show up for a photo op.

    • Sleepless in Bridgeport

      That was a typo. What they meant to write was that teacher morale in Bridgeport is so bad they are jumping off the roof. Time to de certify the CEA for this garbage.

  • Blog

    The video is filled with lies and inaccuracies. Does Mayor Finch believe the BOE should be out evaluating teachers and principals? What did Vallas or the appointed BOE have to do with building a new School? All they did was split a new school (that has been in the works for years) into 4 programs and then go around and tell everyone “we built 4 new schools”. Teachers and guidance positions were cut (class size went up) And some sports have been eliminated. And the biggest secret….there were books in Bridgeport prior to Vallas they just were not from the correct vendors.

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  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    Ask yourself why is it that the first hire for all these clowns…Vallas…..Adamowski…….Regents guy…….is a full time overpriced Public Relations Director who will be supported by special interest groups with deep pockets who are drooling to make themselves rich.
    This whole education scam in CT is about grabbing the money and running. The people in Bridgeport who understand what is at stake will probably vote this crap in and give Finch the keys to the vault. Why not, their kids have a high probabliity of attending one of the Charters or Academic Magnet Schools (like 100%). The rest of Bridgeport doesn’t give a hoot about who is robbing them and their kids. The kids who need public education the most are playing against a stacked deck and their parents just don’t give enough of a damn to tell Finch and his cronies to take a walk.
    What is transpiring in CT now will be seen in retrospect as far worse then Rowland putting a new porch on his house and sadly by then there will be absolutely nothing to be done except last rites.

  • Thank you Jon for all you do–keep it up–and if you need my help in any way–give me a holler–Tom