Deal on Democrats’ use of federal cash for 2014 Malloy race

June 15, 2016

HARTFORD — A court battle that has been raging since the 2014 gubernatorial election was quietly defused on Wednesday, when the State Elections Enforcement Commission agreed to accept a record $325,000 penalty from the state Democratic Party over the use of its federal fundraising machine for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s successful re-election.

The deal, approved 2-1 on the appointed regulatory panel, still needs to be approved by a state Superior Court judge who has been hearing the case, which was originally filed in October of 2014, just days before Malloy’s 26,000-vote victory over Republican Tom Foley.

But Michael Brandi, executive director of the SEEC, said the settlement “lays out a very clear road map” for future adherence to the 2005 state law that bans state-contractor contributions from General Assembly and top-of-the-ticket races such as governor. “This is a significant penalty,” Brandi told reporters after the SEEC meeting. “We believe it’s an appropriate amount to act as a deterrent.”

While state contractors, lawyers and lobbyists are forbidden to contribute to individual races and the Democratic State Central Committee’s state political action committee, they are allowed to pay into the DSCC’s federal account, which is supposed to be used for congressional races. But with the end of the grueling 2014 campaign in sight, Democrats transferred about $325,000 from the federal account to use for campaign mailers that included support for Malloy.

Executive Director Michael Mandell of the DSCC called the stipulated agreement “a positive step forward for the Democratic Party and, more importantly, the state of Connecticut” and he is “glad to put this matter behind us.” The SEEC had demanded to see emails, documents and to investigate fundraising tactics. The DSCC opposed the tactic as unprecedented and not allowed by federal law.

Brandi said that the deal will create a clearer line over what the DSCC can and cannot do. If the case had moved forward and the SEEC won, probably after years of further court battles, Malloy could have been liable for millions of dollars in reimbursements to the Citizens Election Fund.

Republicans voiced disappointment with the deal.

“This matter should have been pursued to its conclusion but apparently the emails and communications between Gov. Malloy and his lieutenants were so highly damaging that they thought it best to settle the case quietly,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “The Democrats preach clean elections and transparency in government and in the end they write out a check and make the issue go away.’’

“The Connecticut Democratic Party has effectively gotten away with illegal campaign spending on behalf of Governor Dan Malloy, and made a mockery of clean campaign laws,” said J.R. Romano, GOP state chairman. The 2014 complain was filed by Romano’s predecessor, Jerry Labriola. “They allowed backdoor donations from state contractors to flow into the Malloy re-election campaign, in direct violation of these laws. By allowing the Connecticut Democrats to get away with these violations, the SEEC has missed the chance to set a precedent declaring that illegal campaign spending will not be tolerated in our state.”

Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina, who began hearings on the case last year, had not yet scheduled a hearing date by Wednesday afternoon, but there is a Friday court deadline for him to act.