During 2013 and 2014, Wait, What? repeatedly reported on the outrageous campaign finance violations being perpetrated by Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and his political operatives during his 2014 gubernatorial re-election campaign. Wait, What? coverage included both original investigative pieces and detailed analysis of the outstanding reporting of the Courant’s Jon Lender.
Now, a year and a half latter, rather than face the full impact of their illegal activities, Malloy’s team “plea-bargained” a deal that was quickly voted on today by the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission. The deal, adopted by a 2-1 Commission vote , lets Malloy and his team off the hook, although they will be paying a record fine for their violation of Connecticut law.
Had Malloy and his operatives been found guilty of intentionally violating Connecticut’s public financing system, he could have been forced to return his $6 million taxpayer-funded public finance grant that he received in return for swearing, under oath, not to circumvent that law and accept outside donations. Instead, the Democratic Party will pay a $325,000 fine to make the “problem” go away.
The Hartford Courant, in a breaking story entitled, Agency Approves Settlement That Would End Probe Of Democrats’ Spending On Malloy Re-Election reports;
State election regulators voted in favor of a negotiated settlement to a high-profile lawsuit in which they have been trying to force the state Democratic party to turn over documents including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s 2014 campaign emails.
The tentative agreement, by the State Elections Enforcement Commission by a 2 to 1 vote with one abstention, would end legal action between the commission and the Democratic State Central Committee dating back more than a year. The agreement is subject to approval by the court in the next day or so.
Final approval means the SEEC would shut down its long-running investigation into whether state Democrats illegally spent about $250,000 on Malloy’s 2014 re-election — as the state Republican party alleged in a complaint — without ever obtaining the documents and other information that SEEC has always said it needed to determine who did what and whether any laws were broken.
Under the proposed settlement, state Democrats would voluntarily contribute about $325,000 to a state fund, in a payment that would not be considered a penalty or fine — and there would be no admission by the party or finding by the commission of illegality or wrongdoing.
The SEEC would drop a pending lawsuit it filed in Superior Court last year seeking a court order that the party comply with an investigatory subpoena it slapped on Democrats in May 2015, and the Democrats would withdraw a suit claiming that the SEEC lacks legal authority to pursue the subpoena. The two sides are facing a deadline on Friday — the day on which their request for a delay in the court ruling runs out.
State Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said in a phone interview Wednesday morning that he thinks that the SEEC should not settle the case and should pursue the probe to obtain the Malloy emails and related documents.
“If the SEEC settles, I think they are wrong,” he said. It would signal that in the future violators of campaign financing laws will know “the SEEC will back down,” Romano said.
Republican state Senate leader Len Fasano agreed, issuing a statement saying: “The SEEC must continue to stand firm and reject the deal…The SEEC has the moral and legal obligation to enforce our clean election laws and protect taxpayers. They need to reject this proposed deal to show that our state cannot be bought. They must complete their fact finding to ensure that transparency and the law prevails.”
Republican state House leader Themis Klarides also issued a statement acknowledging the hefty fine.
“They can call it whatever they want but the $325,000 fine is unprecedented and proves the seriousness of this violation of the law,” Klarides said. “This matter should have been pursed to its conclusion but apparently the e-mails and communications between Gov. Malloy and his lieutenants were so highly damaging that they thought it best to settle the case quietly. Just another blow against transparency in state government that the Governor once bragged about.”
Talks toward a settlement so far have involved proposals such as state Democrats making a voluntary payment as high as the range of $750,000, but an agreement has been elusive until the current tentative one.
The SEEC’s subpoena demanded documents including potentially sensitive emails between Malloy and top political aides that might relate to 2014 campaign spending that the Republican state party chairman said in late 2014 was illegal.
At the center of the SEEC’s lawsuit is a set of clean-election laws that Connecticut legislators enacted in 2005 after Gov. John G. Rowland was convicted of corruption for receiving lucrative benefits from state contractors. Those laws created a system of public financing of state campaigns, along with a ban on state contractors contributing to the campaigns of candidates for state office.
The bargain for state taxpayers was that, in exchange for having to pay millions in grants to candidates under the public-financing program, they wouldn’t have to worry about contractors and their family members influencing state office-holders with their contributions.
But critics say that Democrats’ campaign spending in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign undid that bargain — by letting contractors’ money into the state campaign through a back door.
The Republicans’ complaint said that state Democrats broke the state’s clean-election laws by paying for pro-Malloy mass mailings with about $250,000 from its federally regulated campaign account, which is allowed by federal law to accept heavy contributions from state contractors despite the state’s ban on contractors’ money going to candidates for state office. Republicans said the expenditure on the Malloy mailings — out of the federal account — illegally circumvented the state ban on contractors’ contributions.
You can read more about the Malloy campaign’s action via the following Wait, What? posts