On October 13, 2009 – more than fifteen months ago – an extremely serious complaint against Governor M. Jodi Rell, his senior staff and her campaign committee was filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission alleging that they knowingly violated Connecticut’s campaign laws by receiving illegal campaign contributions and that her campaign illegally used public resources for political purposes. http://www.scribd.com/doc/21009985/seec-complaint-101309
The day after tomorrow – on Wednesday of this week – the SEEC is finally scheduled to take action on that complaint I filed 15 months ago;
In the Matter of a Complaint by Jonathan Pelto, Storrs File No. 2009-104
Proposed Findings and Conclusions, Proposed Consent Agreement and Order
The controversy received widespread media coverage in the fall of 2009 after Ted Mann of the Day broke the story in series of investigative reports. The Courant, JI and other papers also revealed key facts about the issue and a number of editorial boards weighed in against the Governor’s apparently illegal activities.
The allegations that a public official broke the law and used public resources for political purposes are among the most serious charges that can be raised against a sitting Governor. State employees have lost their jobs for such action. If true, Governor Rell would have become only the 2nd Governor in history to be forced to pay a fine for violating the Connecticut law. (Rowland’s earlier use of basketball tickets and other items earned him that honor).
In addition to the SEEC investigation, parallel investigations were begun by the Office of State Auditors, the Attorney General’s Office and the University of Connecticut. It was never quite clear if the Ethics Commission was also involved or if they have been waiting for the other agencies to act.
One would reasonably think that responding to charges such as these would be a top priority – but the wheels of justice move slowly – at least for some.
The record seems to indicate that the investigation phase moved forward fairly quickly, but official action was “delayed” for months. According to their minutes, the Elections Enforcement Commission did take up what appeared to be a final report in executive session last fall but a final vote was delayed.
Now, with Jodi Rell no longer Governor and her staff no longer working in the Governor’s Office File No. 2009-104 (my complaint) is on the agenda for a final vote this coming Wednesday.
The issues behind the complaint are certainly very interesting, but the fact that official action (thanks at least in part to the work of her attorney) was delayed until after she left office seems particularly noteworthy.
I know from previous experience that agencies like the SEEC prefer to go the route of a “Consent Agreement” when dealing with major complaints because it prevents the need for going to court since it includes an acceptance by the accused party that some type of violation took place. Consent Agreements both resolve the situation and make good “case law” for future cases.
The problem with consent agreements is that it requires both sides to agree and you know how it is – the wording of a particular paragraph can take months to negotiate and work out.
Of course, maybe it is just a coincidence that the consent agreement wasn’t ready for action until Rell left office.
Oh, and who represented Governor Rell and her campaign before the State Elections Enforcement Commission?
It was none other than Ross Garber, who readers will remember as the person Governor-elect Malloy selected to serve on his Transition Committee reviewing the names and resumes of potential appointees.
[Funny side note, I never did hear back from the Transition Committee or its Personnel Committee when I sent in my cover letter and resume. Maybe they are still reviewing my materials].
For those who are really interested in the issue and the charges, below are some of the highlights and links to more detail.
“Democrat accuses Rell, committee of ‘significant violations – A Democratic political consultant filed an elections complaint Tuesday against Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her political committee, charging “serious and significant violations” of state campaign financing laws in relation to Rell’s use of a University of Connecticut pollster to help craft her budget and political messaging.” (The Day Oct 14, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21053052/Democrat-Accuses-Rell-Committee-of-%E2%80%98significant-Violations%E2%80%99
“Complaint Claims Rell Broke Election Laws – Rell and her administration have been under fire since last week, when news broke in the Day of New London that Dautrich’s $220,000, taxpayer-funded contract with Rell’s budget office – for a government efficiency study – has produced controversial political research and advice for how Rell should tailor her stances to please voters.” (Courant, Oct 13, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051752/Complaint-Claims-Rell-Broke-Election-Laws-in-Prof%E2%80%99s-Study
“Paying for Rell Message –At best the use of state money by the governor’s office to help frame a political strategy for managing the budget crisis shows a lack of leadership. At worst it could be a violation of law.” (The Day October 9, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051781/Paying-for-Rell-Message
“Our view: Top Rell aide must step down – Gov. M. Jodi Rell should instruct her gubernatorial exploratory committee to immediately reimburse the state for any expenses related to the political research conducted — with taxpayers’ money.” (Norwich Bulletin Oct 9, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051767/Norwich-Bulletin
“Taxpayers Paid $220,000 For This? – COSTLY CONSULTANT – Taxpayers will pony up for UConn professor’s partisan political advice to the governor …Consultants’ bills for such advice are usually paid by candidate committees out of voluntary contributions, not by taxpayers. The state treasury shouldn’t lay the groundwork for a re-election campaign if Mrs. Rell decides to bid for a second full term.” (Courant Editorial, Oct 9, 2009). http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051772/COSTLY-CONSULTANT-Taxpayers-Will-Pony-Up-for-UConn-Professor%E2%80%99s-Partisan
“Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s account of when her administration abandoned a plan to use public funds to poll voters on budget issues is directly contradicted by correspondence between officials at the University of Connecticut. “(The Day Oct 13, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051745/Documents-Disprove-Rell%E2%80%99s-Timeline-on-Polling
“Gov. M. Jodi Rell has insisted that her staff rejected an adviser’s suggestion to use public funds to conduct a poll of voters on budgetary issues soon after the suggestion was made, and that the issue was ever discussed after the administration conducted a focus group instead in December 2008. But e-mail correspondence between University of Connecticut officials indicates that the proposal was still alive as late as Jan. 21, 2009, long after Rell has said the issue was discarded for good.” (The Day Oct 14, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21053055/E-Mails-Contradict-Governor%E2%80%99s-Contention-That-Survey-on-State-Budget-Never
“Questions continue to surround the governor’s hiring of a University of Connecticut professor who is working to streamline government but also provided the administration with possibly inappropriate political advice during the budget battle.” (Stamford Advocate Oct 17 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759303/The-Advocate
“Rell’s UConn Consulting Project Worth Investigating The highly secret project — unearthed through open-records requests — turns out to be, in part, partisan political research that could help her re-election bid if she decides to run for a second full term.” (Courant Editorial Oct 18, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759294/Rell%E2%80%99s-UConn-Consulting-Project-Worth-Investigating
“Rell has insisted that only a single focus group was held last December to help her craft her budget message and weigh the public’s opinion of various strategies to close a looming state deficit. But the existence of two additional efforts to test the public’s opinion on taxes and budgeting will likely raise more questions for Rell, who faces inquiries from state elections officials, state auditors and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal about the scope and purpose of Dautrich’s research, which was publicly funded but included substantial advice on how to best position the governor politically and give her leverage over Democratic opponents in the legislature.” (The Day Oct 22, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759283/More-Questions-for-Rell-Likely-Over-Budget-poll-Focus-Groups
“Moody message indicates governor approved survey Hartford – University of Connecticut professor Kenneth Dautrich conducted a $6,000 poll this spring on the orders of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s chief of staff aimed at weighing voters’ attitudes toward tax increases, borrowing and service cuts as Rell struggled to gain an upper hand over legislative Democrats in a brewing standoff over the state budget.” (The Day, Oct.. 28, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759272/E-Mails-Cast-Doubt-on-Rell-in-Flap-Over-Budget-Poll