Malloy’s Connecticut – Ripping off Connecticut while keeping citizens in the dark

When Dannel Malloy was running for re-election in 2014 he collected a $6 million+ taxpayer funded Clean Campaign grant from the state of Connecticut with the promise that he would not solicit, accept, coordinate or use private funds to benefit his campaign.

In the following months, not only did he benefit from more than $5 million from an account funded by the Democratic Governors Association, AFSCME and AFT, he and his political operatives directly raised another $5 million, much of it from state contractors, lobbyist and people who have benefited from Malloy’s outrageous corporate welfare program.

The law was clear, if you take money in addition to the state grant, you lose the state grant.

That is, if you take money, you must pay back the $6 million in public funds.

Earlier this week, Malloy’s Democratic Party agreed to a settlement with the Connecticut State Elections Commission in which they paid a fine of $325,000 – or 5 percent – of what the taxpayer were owed.

Fair?

When it comes to Malloy, fair and proper are two terms that simply aren’t used.

In a stunning, courageous and insightful commentary piece, followed by a CT Mirror story, the lead investigator for the State Elections Enforcement Commission – Charlie Urso –  now retired – explains some of the issues that took place behind the scene.

Charlie Urso’s commentary piece – Malloy campaign law settlement was a mockery and a sham and the CT Mirror’s article – Investigator says Malloy settlement keeps voters in the darkis a MUST READ for those who really want to about Malloy and the modus operandi that permeates his operation.

While some of the details won’t be new for Wait, What? readers, the two pieces shed critically important light on what has happened to Connecticut under Malloy’s reign.

In Investigator says Malloy settlement keeps voters in the dark, the CT Mirror Reports;

Not too many investigators have Charles Urso’s resume:

He investigated two governors of different parties in different decades for different agencies, first as an FBI agent and then as an investigator for the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Near the end of his FBI career, he helped send Republican Gov. John G. Rowland to prison in 2005. He said Thursday his second career as an elections cop ended in frustration – getting stonewalled trying to find out if Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy violated campaign finance reforms inspired by the Rowland scandal.

The investigation of whether Malloy and the Democratic Party circumvented Rowland-era reforms – a ban on state contractor contributions and strict contribution limits attached to a voluntary system of public financing – ended Wednesday with a settlement.

Without admitting wrongdoing, the party will pay a record $325,000 over 27 months to settle allegations of impropriety involving use of state contractor contributions that flowed through a federal campaign account to support the 2014 re-election Malloy, who accepted $6.5 million in public financing through the Citizens’ Election Program.

Urso said he understands why his former employer took the deal. Democrats challenged an SEEC subpoena with a legal argument that could have neutered the commission’s enforcement authority, saying federal law largely pre-empted the commission in federal election years – which happen to also be state election years.

But he complained that Democrats succeeded in stopping an examination of how Malloy’s campaign and the party systematically raised money from contractors – as much as $10,000 at a time – in a so-called era of “clean elections.”

At the time of the settlement, the commission and the Democrats were awaiting a decision by a Superior Court judge on a motion to compel the party to honor the SEEC subpoena, which demanded bank records, emails and other documents pertaining to fundraising.

In an interview and an article published on CT Mirror’s commentary website, CT Viewpoints, Urso said Malloy and the Democrats made a sham of the Citizens’ Election Program, the system of publicly financed campaigns created in 2005 after Rowland resigned and went to prison.

“The settlement was made without allowing SEEC the ability to conduct a reasonable investigation. Despite public pronouncements of cooperation, they made a mockery of the investigation,” Urso wrote. “In response to SEEC requests, they only provided 300 pages of evidence before they refused to cooperate including ability to interview witnesses. The last time I investigated a Governor, I reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents.”

The documents were sought to shed light on about $1 million in spending through the federal account maintained by the Democratic State Central Committee. Some of the money was used to hire staff who laid the groundwork for Malloy’s re-election campaign.

Federal law requires the federal account to be used for get out the vote efforts when there are federal offices at stake, even if those same efforts also serve candidates for state office.

But federal and Connecticut campaign laws are contradictory. State law bans contractor contributions and provides public financing to candidates who agree to accept donations of no more than $100 and abide by spending limits, while federal law permits contractor contributions to the parties’ federal accounts, up to $10,000.

When Malloy accepted the $6.5 million public grant, his campaign already had benefitted from the federal account, some of which came from contractors prohibited from giving directly to his or any other state campaign.

“The paperwork he signed certified he had not and would not receive contributions from prohibited sources,” Urso wrote.

David S. Golub, who clashed with Urso while representing the Democrats, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the governor had no comment, referring all inquiries to the Democratic Party.

Michael J. Brandi, the general counsel and executive director of the commission, defended the settlement Wednesday, saying the Democrats agreed to rules that resolve a significant conflict in state and federal election law and it ended litigation that could have produced a court ruling curtailing the ability of state regulators to enforce campaign reforms enshrined in the Citizens’ Election Program.

The settlement lays out new accounting rules and other restrictions intended to keep campaign money prohibited by state law out of state campaigns. The party also dropped its claim that federal election law pre-empts the commission from issuing subpoenas to investigate alleged potential violations of state elections law.

Urso’s voice was only one of those heard Thursday.

“This is great news for the integrity of our elections,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, the president of Common Cause. “The settlement affirms that candidates for governor and the legislature cannot accept aid from companies doing business with the state; that was the intent of the law that we and our allies worked so hard to pass after the scandals of the Rowland administration.”

Hobert Flynn conceded there may be some who were frustrated that the Democratic Party was not found to have violated state law, but a protracted legal battle wouldn’t have ensured the integrity of the Citizens’ Election Program.  She said the deal sends a message that states can pass and enforce campaign finance laws that are tougher than federal law.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, strenuously disagreed.

“The settlement contains nothing innovative or groundbreaking. All this settlement says is that the state Democratic Party now promises to follow current state law – the same law they should have been following in the first place,” Fasano said. “The SEEC trying to sell this agreement as a creative and innovative approach is a slap in the face to those they are supposed to protect by defending transparency and enforcing the law.

“It’s an excuse for the obvious reality that they rolled over to the state Democratic Party and accepted a payoff instead of doing their job.”

In a statement issued before Urso released his opinion piece, Fasano said the commission owed the public a full investigation, making the same point as the retired investigator.

“If the SEEC was going to try to settle this case without a ruling, then they shouldn’t have wasted taxpayer resources to take it this far all to end up making a deal without knowing all the facts,” Fasano said. “They should have waited for a ruling, and a complete investigation, so that we could have a real, enforceable resolution.”

You can read and comment on the original story at: http://ctmirror.org/2016/06/16/investigator-says-malloy-settlement-keeps-voters-in-the-dark/

You can read Charlie Urso’s commentary piece, Malloy campaign law settlement was a mockery and a sham, at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/06/16/connecticut-campaign-law-settlement-was-a-mockery-and-a-sham/

 

 

Malloy-Wyman take one last step to destroy open government and campaign finance oversight

Since taking office five years ago, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration have done just about everything they could to shut down access to government information and undermine Connecticut’s once prominent campaign finance reform law.

Their primary target for their attacks have been the independent “watch-dog” agencies.

In their latest and perhaps most stunning move, the dynamic duo of Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman have proposed a state budget that would effectively put an end to the Freedom of Information Commission, the State Elections Enforcement Commission and the State Ethics Commission.

As the Journal Inquirer’s Mike Savino reports in his latest article entitled, Ethics office, FOIC, SEEC say budget cuts would render them useless;

The state’s watchdog agencies Friday warned lawmakers that cuts in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget would render their agencies essentially useless.

 “We have already been cut to the bone — we cannot deal with any more cuts,” State Elections Enforcement Commission Executive Director Michael Brandi told the legislature’s Appropriations Committee during a public hearing Friday.

Malloy’s budget proposal would cut a combined $891,983 from SEEC, the Freedom of Information Commission, and the Office of State Ethics — the three biggest of the nine so-called watchdog agencies that operate under the Office of Government Accountability.

[…]

Brandi, though, said the proposed cut comes after years of reducing allocations to his and other watchdog agencies.

SEEC received roughly $5.14 million from the general fund in the 2012 fiscal year, when Malloy created the OGA and consolidated the watchdog agencies.

[…]

Officials with the FOIC and ethics office sounded similar alarms, saying they, too, would be unable to fulfill their missions if lawmakers adopt Malloy’s budget.

Ethics Executive Director Carol Carlson said her agency is a small office with a highly-skilled staff that is “called upon to engage in multiple aspects of the division’s business, and each employee has multiple roles that impact our core services.”

Carlson warned that a reduction of just three employees — in an agency of 15 — means it no longer would be able to provide adequate training and legal advice to state workers, enforce the state’s ethics code, or process lobbyists’ disclosures that bring in $600,000 annually in revenue.

Like Brandi, the other agencies say cuts since 2012 have left them unable to absorb further reductions.

[…]

“The commission’s case docket has increased dramatically over the past several years, while its staff and funding have been greatly reduced due to consolidation and budget cuts,” FOIC Executive Director Colleen Murphy said.

Tom Swan, the executive director of Connecticut Citizens Action Group, made the issue crystal clear in his testimony to the Appropriations Committee;

“This appears to be a backdoor way to undermine the independence of these vital agencies.”

Meanwhile the Malloy administration continues their campaign to dismantle what is left of honesty and openness in Connecticut state government.

Dannel Malloy – Stonewalling an investigation by Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission.

When Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy accepted $6.5 million in taxpayer funds to pay for this 2014 gubernatorial campaign he signed a contract promising not to accept any other funds to pay for his campaign.

But despite that commitment Malloy and his political operatives funneled millions of dollars through the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee’s Federal Account in an unethical effort to beat his Republican opponent.  The money that flowed through the Democratic Party’s special account included hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who directly benefited from lucrative state contracts, a move that also violated Connecticut state law.

Connecticut’s bi-partisan State Elections Enforcement Commission authorized an investigation into the illegal activities engaged by Malloy and his political operatives.

But rather than address the issues, Team Malloy has been fighting to stop the investigation.

Not only has he ducked his legal responsibilities as governor and as a candidate for governor, but he is forcing the state to waste massive amounts of public funds trying to get the Malloy campaign and the Democratic Party to stop stonewalling the investigation by the Connecticut State Elections Commission.

The Connecticut State Elections Commission is hardly a partisan body.

Anthony J. Castagno of North Stonington was elected Chairman of the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission in December 2012.  He was nominated to the Commission by the Speaker of the House. Salvatore A. Bramante was nominated to the Commission by the Minority Leader of the House. Patricia Stankevicius of Wolcott was nominated to serve on the Commission by Governor M. Jodi Rell.  Attorney Stephen T. Penny was nominated to serve on the Commission by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Attorney Michael J. Ajello was nominated to the Commission by the Senate Minority Leader.

All were confirmed by the Connecticut General Assembly.

Let’s re-state that point – ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE CONNECTICUT STATE ELECTIONS ENFORCEMENT COMMISSION WERE LEGALLY NOMINATED AND CONFIRMED BY THE MEMBERS OF THE CONNECTICUT GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

But rather than protect the State Election Enforcement Commission’s legal responsibility to investigate what appears to be a major crime, Malloy and his political operatives continue to do everything they can to stop what is an appropriate and necessary investigation into Malloy’s campaign.

Here is the latest news coverage of the effort to stop the duly authorized investigation.

From the Hartford Courant comes, “Final Arguments Turn Testy On Subpoena Of State Democratic Party Documents.”

Lawyers delivered at-times testy final arguments Tuesday in a trial over whether the state Democratic Party can continue to defy a subpoena that demands emails between Gov. Daniel P. Malloy and top aides, as well as other documents relating to the party’s support of Malloy’s re-election last year.

[…]

Central to the case are the clean-election laws that the General Assembly 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’ executives and family members contributing to candidates for state office – all intended to banish contractors’ influence from elections.

According to the GOP’s complaint, state Democrats broke state law by paying for pro-Malloy mass mailings last year with about $250,000 from a federally regulated campaign account, which is allowed by federal law to accept heavy contributions from state contractors. Republicans said the expenditure on the mailings illegally circumvented the state ban on contractors’ contributions.

In court Tuesday, Golub reiterated past assertions that the Malloy mailers must be considered “federal election activity” – which federal law requires be paid for out of the federal account, he said.

“Federal election activity” is what Congress has decided “can influence the outcome of a federal election,” Golub said – adding that the mailers fell into that category because, even though they were dominated by photos and praise of Malloy, they included wording that urged people to vote, told them where polling places were and provided a phone number to call for a ride to the polls.

Those voters could also vote for candidates for federal office – in the person of Democratic candidates for congressional seats who were on the same ballot with Malloy. Thus, Golub has said for weeks, the get-out-the-vote language on the pro-Malloy mailers could have affected the outcome of federal congressional elections. It didn’t matter that the pro-Malloy mailers didn’t contain the names of any of those congressional candidates, he said.

However, Osborne said the state and federal laws aren’t incompatible, as Golub claims, and that it might have been possible for the Democrats to comply with both. She asked Robaina to uphold the SEEC’s authority under state law, as “the election experts,” to “carry out a meaningful investigation.”

Her comments echoed what she wrote in a recent legal brief: “The far-reaching implications of [Golub’s] argument cannot be overstated; if the … pre-emption claim is permitted to prevail, in every election in Connecticut where there is a federal candidate on the ballot, which is every two years, the SEEC’s authority to regulate contributions to state candidates will be effortlessly circumvented,” Osborne wrote. “Such a conclusion will reverberate through state elections and even beyond the borders of Connecticut.”

[…]

Golub said that although U.S. Supreme Court decisions generally give deference to subpoenas from regulatory agencies such as the SEEC, they make an “enormous exception” in cases where a party organization’s First Amendment rights to associate politically are threatened.

In such cases – and he said this is one – the regulatory agency needs to make a detailed “showing of need” that goes “beyond just a general suspicion,” Golub said. He said the subpoena seeks two full years’ worth of internal party communications that could cover strategy and internal operations, as well as the names of people who solicit money to operate the party and expand membership, adding that information is constitutionally protected.

But Osborne disputed him, saying emails are often the source of information about improper activity, and the party shouldn’t be able to withhold them because they may be “embarrassing” on a personal level to those who wrote them.

In 2014, Connecticut taxpayers funded more than$33 million in campaign grants to state candidates who participated in the Citizens’ Election Program on the promise that they wouldn’t accept money from state contractors. Malloy received $6.5 million through the public-financing program.

The CT Newsjunkie story on the hearing was entitled, “Attorney For Election Regulators: Dems Tried To ‘Stonewall and Stymie’ Investigation.”

An attorney for state election regulators told Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina that the Connecticut Democratic Party was trying to “stonewall and stymie” an investigation, while an attorney for the party told him they were seeking highly confidential party communications protected by the First Amendment.

Those arguments were made Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court. Robaina gave the attorneys two hours to make their closing arguments. He asked no questions. He has 120 days to make a decision, but told the attorneys he will make one as quickly as possible.

Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne, who represents the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which is seeking to enforce the subpoena against the Democratic Party said the investigation regulators are trying to conduct “is seriously languishing” due to the lack of compliance.

The complaint against the Democratic Party, which spent more than $200,000 from its federal account on mailers featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, was filed by former Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola back in October 2014.

The mailers that also included a get-out-the-vote message were paid for with the party’s federal account. The federal account can accept money from state contractors. That creates a conflict between federal and state law. State law prohibits state contractor money from being used on publicly financed candidates, even though publicly financed candidates are now allowed to accept unlimited amounts from political parties.

Osborne said if the party is allowed to get away with this it amounts to a “massive circumvention route” around the state’s campaign finance laws, which were adopted in 2005 in the wake of former Gov. John G. Rowland’s corruption plea for accepting gifts from state contractors.

And the CT Mirror added to the coverage in, “Assistant AG: Democrats trying to ‘stonewall’,” writing

How the Connecticut Democratic Party came to solicit state contractors, regulated industries and beneficiaries of state aid for campaign contributions in 2014 is “highly privileged and confidential,” the party’s lawyer told a judge Tuesday.

David S. Golub, defending Democrats against an investigative subpoena, told Superior Court Judge Antonio C. Robaina in Hartford that the party has no obligation to disclose its fundraising strategy or internal communications.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has no right to the names of people who solicited campaign funds or the strategy for approaching donors, he said. Donors gave as much as $20,000 each in the two years prior to 2014 election, when the Democratic Party raised more than $7 million.

Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne, representing the commission, said the Democrats were trying to “stonewall and stymie the investigation.”

The commission is attempting to investigate whether the party illegally supported the re-election of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year with contributions from donors barred from giving to state campaigns.

Robaina heard final arguments Tuesday on a motion by the attorney general’s office for the judge to compel the party to produce emails, bank records and other documents subpoenaed by the elections commission.

“This court should order the enforcement of the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s subpoena sooner rather than later,” Osborne said.

Robaina, who gave the two lawyers free rein to spar for two hours, has 120 days to render a decision. The judge asked no questions, made no comments and gave no hint of whether he would facilitate or hobble what might be the most politically sensitive investigation ever opened by the commission.

In trying to quash the subpoena, Golub made arguments aimed at ending the investigation. He is challenging the commission’s jurisdiction and accusing it of trying to reach too deeply into the inner workings of the state’s dominant political party, violating its First Amendment rights.

The case is testing the strength of sweeping campaign finance reforms passed in 2005 after a corruption scandal toppled Gov. John G. Rowland: a ban on donations from state contractors, limits on lobbyist contributions and a voluntary system of publicly financed campaigns.

A central issue is conflicts between state and federal campaign finance law.

While Connecticut law bars state contractors from donating to state campaigns, federal law dictates the rules for raising and spending money that is used for get-out-the-vote efforts in federal election years, when state elections are also held.

The result is state parties maintain state and federal accounts. They are free to deposit state contractor contributions in the federal accounts, which provide significant support for state campaigns by helping deliver voters to the polls.

Essentially, the state has two sets of contradictory campaign financing rules: one provides public financing to candidates who agree to accept donations of no more than $100 and abide by spending limits that vary by office; the other allows state parties to accept maximum donations of $10,000 a year and spend unlimited amounts supporting their candidates.

Malloy benefitted from both systems. He is Connecticut’s first governor to win using public financing, defeating wealthy, self-funding opponents who outspent him in the Democratic primary and general election in 2010.

He was re-elected in 2014 with $6.5 million in public financing and the support of a party that financed a sophisticated get-out-the-vote machine with funds Malloy helped attract, beginning with more than $1.5 million in 2013. That was triple what the Democratic Party had collected four years earlier in the runup to the 2010 election, when it did not control the governor’s office.

And so it goes…..

Apparently laws are for the little people….

State Contractors can’t make political donations – oh – except to benefit Malloy

The driving force behind Connecticut’s successful effort to reform its campaign finance system ten years ago was the revelation that disgraced Governor John Rowland had used his position to solicit gifts and campaign donations from state contractors and others who directly benefited from the expenditure of taxpayer funds.

Following its passage in 2005, Connecticut’s new campaign finance law was heralded as one of the strongest in the nation.

Putting aside the way the new law unfairly treated third party candidates, Connecticut’s lawmakers passed, and Governor Jodi Rell signed, a sweeping piece of legislation that systematically outlawed state contractors from making campaign donations to benefit a political candidate.

Whereas John Rowland’s campaign finance reports were filled with the names of major state contractors such as the Tomasso Brothers Corporation, the Gilbane Company and the Manafort Brothers, as a direct result of Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance reform legislation, every governor and gubernatorial candidate after Rowland would be prohibited from accessing state contractor money.

However, as the final round of campaign finance reports are submitted for Connecticut’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, it is becoming increasingly clear that when it came the prohibition on state contractor donations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his political operation fundamentally violated the spirit of Connecticut’s campaign finance law and, quite possibly, the letter of the law as well.

As has been widely reported, in addition to collecting the $6.5 million taxpayer funded check from the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Malloy campaign funneled at least $5.1 million into the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee’s “Federal Account,” where a significant portion of those funds were used for the exclusive benefit of Malloy’s campaign for re-election.

A review of the list of those who donated that $5.1 million includes dozens of state contractors including the some of the very companies associated with John Rowland’s downfall, including the Tomasso Brothers Corporation, the Gilbane Company, the Manafort Brothers and others whose campaign donations tarnished Connecticut’s reputation and sent a sitting governor to prison.

The role state contractor donations played in the Malloy campaign has received a fair amount of media coverage, such as Jon Lender’s investigative series in the Hartford Courant’s reporting on how top executives at Northeast Utilities donated more than $50,000 to benefit Malloy’s campaign.  The head of NU instructed subordinates that they could support Malloy by making their checks out to the Connecticut Democrat’s “Federal Account.”  (See details about the NU story via NU Chief Asks Subordinates To Support Malloy By Giving To Democratic Party and Election Agency Probes Legality Of NU Chief’s Solicitation For Malloy.)  The latest campaign reports indicate that NU officials helped Malloy by donating at least $56,750 to that Democratic account, as instructed.

But the full extent of the Malloy campaign unethical use of state contractor donations goes well beyond the Northeast Utilities example.

HAKS Engineering of New York collected more than $18 million from the State of Connecticut since Dannel Malloy took office.  Some of their work was part of a new contract to inspect overhead power lines on the New Haven Line of Metro North.  A May 2014 article in the CT Mirror reported that executives of HAKS Engineering had donated $45,000 to the account the Malloy campaign was using to sidestep Connecticut’s law prohibiting state contractors from giving funds to benefit Connecticut candidates.

In fact, by the end of the 2014 campaign cycle, HAKS executives and their families, along with their related companies, had actually donated about $80,000 the Democrat’s “Federal Account,” including $32,000 from Hasam Ahmad and his wife, $10,000 from Shahida Akhtar, $10,000 from Elliot Gene Sander, and donations in the range of $5,000 or more from other HAKS employees including Franco Balassone, Mahmood Mohammed, Louis Torelli and Mubbashir Rahman.

Another example of the Malloy campaign collecting campaign donations from those who have directly benefited from the Malloy administrations actions is Winstanley Enterprises, the lead developer of New Haven’s Downtown Crossing.  The publicly funded project is now home to Alexion Pharmaceuticals, the company that received a $51 million corporate welfare package from the Malloy administration to move to that property.  Adam and Carter Winstanley each donated to $20,000 to the Democrat’s Malloy oriented “Federal Account,” while David Winstanley pitched in $10,000 for a total of at least $50,000 from the Winstanley family.

Another key source of campaign funds for the Malloy operation was the law firm of Pullman & Comley whose attorney provided more than $45,000 during the recent campaign.  The Bridgeport based law firm has snagged a series of extremely lucrative contract with various state agencies including the Attorney General’s Office, the State Treasurer’s Office, the University of Connecticut, the State Airport Authority and the Department of Transportation.  Since Malloy became governor, the firm has collected in excess of $2.7 million and that doesn’t even count the money billed in this fiscal year.

Yet another example is the one the CT Mirror noted in their May 2014 article where they wrote, “The Simon Konover Company, which the state pays $4.7 million annually to rent 55 Elm St. in Hartford, is up to $51,000 in donations, with $30,000 from three executives last month on top of $21,000 last year. Its tenants include the attorney general, treasurer and controller.” As the Malloy’s re-election campaign came to a close, the total raised from those directly associated with the Simon Konover Company reached $71,000.

And what about those big construction companies that were so generous to John Rowland.  The Malloy operation also managed to collect donations from officials the Tomasso Brothers Corporation, the Gilbane Company and the Manafort Brothers Company.   The Manafort Brothers Company led the pack with $22,000 in donations.

Check back tomorrow for even more examples of the role state contractors inappropriately played in Malloy’s re-election effort.

Connecticut Democratic Party hit with campaign finance complaint

For months questions have been swirling around State Party Chair Nancy DiNardo, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee about the role they played during the September 2013 Bridgeport Board of Education Democratic Primary

The Democratic State Central Committee diverted an unprecedented $40,000 in state party funds to support Mayor Bill Finch’s pro-corporate education reform industry slate against a challenge from a slate made up of pro-public education Democrats.

Although State Party fundraising efforts consistently promise that donations to the State Party will be used to defeat Republicans, the State Party donated $20,000 to the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, the day before the primary, to pay for the endorsed slate’s get-out-the-vote canvass operation.  Democratic State Central Committee spent another $20,000 on direct mail and other campaign services for the losing slate.  All of these funds were used in a failed attempt to defeat fellow Democrats.

Despite repeated requests for information about this debacle, Democratic Party officials have not only refused to come clean on how the $40,000 was diverted from the State Party to a losing local Democratic Primary battle, but the Connecticut Democratic Party has also failed to address who paid for two key campaign expenditures.

Finch’s losing slate benefited from a public opinion message testing poll of Bridgeport voters that was conducted at the beginning of the campaign.  Although a message testing poll of this nature would cost $20,000 to $35,000, the expenditure does not show up in the campaign finance reports submitted by the Connecticut Democratic Party, the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee or A Better Connecticut (the pro-corporate education reform industry political action committee that also poured money into the race in support of Finch’s candidates).

In addition, a well-known opposition research company out of Oregon was hired to investigate the members of the Democratic challenge slate, the Working Families Party candidates and their key supporters.  The professional research company’s efforts included investigating the opposition candidate’s personal and family backgrounds.  Some of that information was then sent anonymously to reporters in the days immediately preceding the Democratic Primary.

Although a professional opposition research report of this nature can cost $25,000 or more, there is absolutely no expenditure for opposition research in the campaign finance reports submitted by the Connecticut Democratic Party, the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee or A Better Connecticut.

While the unethical diversion of $40,000 in Democratic Party funds is outside the purview of the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission, the failure to report the $45,000 or more in expenditures on behalf of the losing slate would be a significant violation of Connecticut law and pursuing that violation would definitely be a task for the Elections Enforcement Commission.

I filed the complaint last month and it has now been designated as File No. 2013-179.

Check back for updates as the complaint moves forward.

In the meantime, you can read more about the details in the following Wait, What? posts.

Connecticut Democratic Party Chair fails to explain – Why did the Party divert 40k to fight pro-public education Democrats in Bridgeport Primary? (12/10/13)

Time for the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee to come clean about spending (12/3/13)

Malloy/Finch/Vallas lose in Bridgeport but questions remain about role of State Democratic Party (11/6/13)

Did you make a contribution to the Democratic State Central Committee? (11/4/13)

State Democratic Party (quietly) dumps $20k into losing Bridgeport slate (10/18/13)

Connecticut Democratic Party subsidizes Mayor Finch’s Bridgeport Board of Education Slate (9/6/13)

Connecticut’s House Republicans step forward to protect open, fair and accountable government

If you found that hard to read, imagine how hard it was to write…

But it is true.

Last week, the leader of the House Republicans blasted Governor Malloy’s plan to undermine Connecticut’s watchdog agencies.

Representative Cafero observed that Governor Malloy’s budget proposal is, “…an attempt to undermine the public’s right to know what is going on within government.” 

Cafero added, “Investigations into campaign finance fraud, ethics complaints and Freedom of Information challenges will fall by the wayside if this proposal goes forward.’’  

While Democratic leaders remained silent or tip-toed around the issue, the House Republicans stepped forward to speak the truth.

The independence of Connecticut’s watchdog and good government entities is under assault.

What are these good government entities?

In 1974, following the Watergate scandal, the Connecticut General Assembly created the State Elections Commission (Public Act 74-213) to “ensure the integrity of the state’s electoral process.”

In 1975, Connecticut passed one of the most far-reaching Freedom of Information Acts in the nation and created the Freedom of Information Commission (Public Act 75-342) to “ensure citizen access to the records and meetings of public agencies in the State of Connecticut.”

And in 1977, the General Assembly formed the Connecticut State Ethics Commission (Public Act 77-600) to “promote the highest ethical standards and accountability in state government by providing education and legal advice, ensuring disclosure, and impartially enforcing the Codes of Ethics.”

In each case, the commissions and offices were set up to be bi-partisan or non-partisan entities, independent of any inappropriate political influence from the administrative or legislative branches of government.  The laws were designed to protect each entity’s fundamental mission to oversee Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, Connecticut’s freedom of information laws and Connecticut’s ethics laws.

Over the years, although Connecticut’s laws were already some of the strongest in the country, state government expanded and strengthened its good government statutes even more, further ensuring open and fair elections and government. 

In 2005, Connecticut adopted a Citizens’ Election Program, considered the “most sweeping public campaign finance program in the country. “

Then, in 2011, Governor Malloy proposed merging the government watchdog agencies into a single entity called the Office of Governmental Accountability.

While the Connecticut General Assembly revised Malloy’s original proposal to allow the various watchdog entities to retain some independence, the legislation, (Public Act 11-48) created the position of Executive Administrator, a position appointed by the governor.  The job of the Executive Administrator was to “provide consolidated personnel, payroll, affirmative action, and administrative and business office function.”

In this way, the Office of the Governor was given far greater reach into the day-to-day operations of the independent, government watchdog agencies.

However, as the Office of Governmental Accountability’s website notes, even today, each entity within the Office of Governmental Accountability “retains its independent decision-making authority, including for budgetary and employment decisions.”

But just a couple of weeks  ago, as part of his proposed state budget, Governor Malloy and his OPM Secretary, Ben Barnes, proposed doing way with that independent budget and employment decision-making authority.

As Representative Cafero explained, “All these watchdogs we rely on to ensure the rights of individuals and root out government fraud and mismanagement would fall under authority of an appointee of the governor. We will be losing any autonomy in these units.’’

Considering Connecticut’s long standing commitment to good government and independent watchdog agencies, the Governor’s decision to make this unprecedented power grab is beyond belief.

But that is exactly what Governor Malloy has done…

And to date, only the Republican legislators have stood up to say they will fight to put an end to Malloy’s proposal.

Malloy says: I know, let’s finish off the effectiveness of the government watchdog agencies…

In his first budget, Governor Malloy went a long way toward undermining the effectiveness of Connecticut’s landmark Freedom of Information Commission, Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission and Connecticut’s other watch dog and good government agencies by merging them into a single agency, reducing their resources and giving financial control to a political appointee.

Although he somehow forgot to mention it during his speech last week, Malloy’s new state budget plan takes another giant leap forward in his effort to destroy Connecticut’s once stellar standing as having one of the best good government programs in the nation.

The CTMirror has the details in an article entitled “Howls as Malloy tries to shorten leash on watchdogs,” but the quote of the day goes to Malloy’s Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, Ben Barnes, who says of the proposal to destroy the remaining independence of the watchdog agencies, “There is nothing insidious about this.”

As quoted in the CTMirror article, James H. Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information explains, “These proposals can only be explained as an effort to gain control over the guarantors of transparency and integrity in government…We ask why the Malloy administration is determined to emasculate the independent watchdogs?”

As the CTMirror explains, “Malloy’s plan would give a gubernatorial appointee, the executive director of the Office of Government Accountability, the authority to assign and discipline lawyers whose duties could include investigating Malloy or some future governor.”

The CTMirror summarizes the situation noting, “The change would remove a layer of political insulation that protects the agencies and the governor: The watchdogs are free of executive influence, real or perceived; and the governor’s office is protected against accusations of protecting friends or punishing enemies.”

Imagine what the Democrats would be saying if a Republican governor made such an outrageous proposal.

I bet if we listen carefully, we can hear John Rowland laughing…