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
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.