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.

Oh…Remember When Democratic Leaders were for Campaign Finance Reform

(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Democrats Complete the Task of Undermining the State’s Public Finance Law

“Senate Democrats gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a budget bill that cuts the staffs of the three biggest watchdogs by about one-third and ends mandatory audits of publicly financed legislative campaigns.”

Mark Pazniokas, of the CTMirror, reports on the successful effort by the Democrats to undermine Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance law.

Karen Hobert Flynn of Common Cause responds, saying “For a minute amount of money to be saved out of the state budget, in the end I fear we have made the watchdogs far weaker and made it much harder for them to do their job.”

The new state budget actually cuts the staff at the State Elections Enforcement Commission by a larger percentage than any other agency, and the budget implementation bill goes on to target the public financing program with a number of changes that will undermine the campaign finance program’s ability to function.

The attack was led by people who have consistently claimed to be the program’s biggest supporters.

Oh remember the days…

Back on January 27th, 2010, when then-candidate Dan Malloy spoke out after a Zogby public opinion survey found that 79 percent of Connecticut voters supported public financing and the Citizens’ Elections Program.

Malloy said, “In my view, this poll should serve as proof of just how strongly Connecticut voters feel about campaign finance reform, and as a warning for those candidates who think they can brush aside the Citizens’ Election Program…”

And Speaker of the House Chris Donovan was so pleased with the passage of the landmark campaign finance bill back in November of 2005 that he wrote “Almost 230 years ago, the founding fathers took a huge risk when they signed the Declaration of Independence and set the wheels in motion for the world’s greatest democracy. Today, this historic campaign finance reform legislation reaffirms that this is a government for the people, not special interests. This campaign finance reform bill is our declaration of independence. We can look our constituents in the eye and say we created the strongest campaign laws in the United States.”

Even now, Senate President Pro Tempore Don Williams’ official biography reads, “Since his election as Senate President, Senator Williams has been a leading advocate for cleaning up government. He authored legislation to reform the State Ethics Commission and supported sweeping changes to the campaign finance system and the state contracting process. With the creation of a publicly funded campaign finance system in 2005, Connecticut now has the strongest reform laws in the nation.”

But the legislation that passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday May 31, 2011, and then the State Senate yesterday, severely limits the oversight of the program by mandating that the State Election Enforcement Commission cannot audit more than 50% of the State House and State Senate campaigns that utilize the public financing program.

Furthermore, it also places extraordinary term limits on those who serve on the State Elections Enforcement Commission, reducing their terms from five to three years; and bars them from serving consecutive terms.  The law will ensure that no commissioner has the historic perspective to properly monitor the program.

State Senator Gayle Slossberg, the only Democrat to vote against the anti-public financing proposal was quoted as saying, “I just think that the proposal in front of us undermines the independence and the integrity of the watchdog agencies,”

Although the Malloy Administration said the cuts to the State Elections Enforcement Commission were necessary to balance the upcoming state budget, Pazniokas’ story notes the irony that only a few days ago Malloy and the Democratic leaders were able to “find” the money to eliminate the $400 budget deficit in next year’s budget thanks to the use of surplus state revenues.  In fact, the growing revenues have allowed Malloy to propose using cash instead of borrowing over $600 million dollars for this budget.

A new billion dollars in revenue; but the massive changes to the public financing program were still needed…

At least, that is the situation according to Malloy’s primary advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, who said “There are difficult decisions. There are difficult spending cuts. There are difficult tax increases…That’s what happens when you have a $3.5 billion deficit.”

But Occiogrosso added that the changes would make government “more efficient and cost effective.”

For the CT Mirror story, go to: http://ctmirror.org/story/12781/election-cops-take-biggest-hit-consolidation

5:30 pm Update on the Democratic effort to undermine Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance law

Senate Democrats are racing to pass the budget implementation bill that passed the Connecticut House of Representatives last night.

The legislation;

(1) severely damages Connecticut’s open government agencies including the State Elections Enforcement Commission,

(2) undermines Connecticut’s community college system by merging it into a new mega agency where the Commissioner of Higher Education has
already said he wants to change the direction of the community colleges and

(3) allows Governor Malloy to further back off his pledge on moving the State to GAAP accounting.

The debate on the bill continues but earlier this afternoon, Senator  Toni Harp, defending the bill merging Connecticut’s watch-dog agencies, said  “Each agency will maintain their current, independent authority…”

But what Senator Harp failed to point out is that the Democrat’s budget eliminates the majority of SEEC inspectors and auditors, mandates that the SEEC cannot auditor more than 50% of the legislative races and places term limits on the SEEC commissioners that will make it impossible for there to be any continuity in policy on the oversight commission.

Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance law was years in the making and was hailed as the most important effort any state has made in trying to get special interest big money out of politics.

Nearly all of the Democratic legislators voting in favor of these changes actually claimed credit for the law in their recent political campaigns adding it to their list of accomplishments and actually putting it in their campaign brochures.

With the House Democrats passing this bill late last night and the Senate Democrats working to pass the bill this afternoon, Democratic legislators will have done more damage to this vital law than the Republicans have been able to do in four years.

Quick, turn away… you don’t want to see what they are doing to our democracy

(cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Democracy is for losers!  That is the message hidden inside the Connecticut budget deal.

It is nothing short of a dishonest effort to destroy Connecticut’s best-in-the-nation public financing program, the very system Democrats rightly took credit for over the past few years.

Decades in the making, the Connecticut General Assembly adopted the Citizens Election Program in 2005 and our state rightly took its place at the very head of the list of those seeking to ensure fair, honest, clean and competitive elections.

The action was truly monumental.  At a time when our national election system is increasingly under the control of special interests and the very accuracy of elections is under assault, Connecticut stepped forward with an approach that today serves as the model for what governments can do to promote democracy.

But now, in 2011, after Governor Malloy and Democrats campaigned  in support of the Citizens Election Program we learn of a new “deal” that would make the program unworkable by splitting it apart and eliminating effective oversight, thereby ending  a system that is not only working, but
working well.

Gone is the promise to preserve the independence and fundamental mission of Connecticut’s campaign finance law.

Instead a plan emerges, from behind closed-door discussions, that shifts key parts of Connecticut’s landmark program to the Office of the Secretary of the State, moves vital oversight functions to the Auditors of Public Accounts and transfers the remaining bits to a so-called  Office of Governmental Accountability.

In the end, a nonpartisan system is replaced with one where an elected official hands out the campaign finance grants and the state auditors (who are former state legislators and appointed to the job by the legislature) are responsible for ensuring the grant program and individual grants are
properly handled.

The whole notion would be truly laughable, but incredibly this plan is not only real but attached to the budget that Governor Malloy and the
Democrats are rushing to pass before there is sufficient time to fully comprehend what  has been added and changed by the “budget deal” cut last week by Malloy and the Democratic Leaders.

As someone who has watched the campaign and election process in Connecticut for more than 35 years, it is inconceivable that a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Legislature would decimate the extraordinary work that was done to make Connecticut’s elections fairer.

The plan that has been attached to the budget is nothing short of a death sentence to what Democrats have worked so hard to achieve.

Out of touch with reality and what is truly important doesn’t begin to describe the aura that surrounds this secret deal.

For additional background, take a look at the commentary piece written by the Chairman of the State Elections Enforcement Commission in Sunday’s CTNewsJunkie about this emerging effort to turn the clock back on Connecticut’s historic effort to promote fair and clean elections.

The piece [Chairman Cashman on Democratic Plan] should be required reading for every legislator before they are allowed to cast their vote on this budget deal between Governor Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders.