Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

0Complaint targets state rep’s PAC for inadequate disclosure

A complaint alleges that a political action committee run by a Democratic state representative failed to disclose its activity properly, including last-minute contributions to town party committees right before the 2013 municipal election.

After Donna Hemmann, a Republican member of the Wethersfield Town Council, filed the complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission in May, the PAC filed amended reports to disclose two $500 donations to the Wethersfield Democratic Town Committee made on Oct. 21 and Nov. 5, 2013.

Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, controls the Pro-Progressive Energetic Leaders PAC, also known as Pro-PEL. Morin did not respond to requests for comment for this article. Outside of the legislature, Morin works for Connecticut Employees Union Independent, one of the state employee unions and an SEIU local. His PAC draws considerable support from unions.

The Wethersfield DTC did properly report the contributions, which is how Hemmann learned about them.

Pro-PEL’s amended report also disclosed other October donations that weren’t previously reported, including $500 for the Berlin Democratic Town Committee.

Hemmann also questioned how the committee raised $3,455 at a fundraiser that cost only $25, saying the “return on investment defies credibility.”

SEEC scheduled the complaint, 2014-058, for discussion during executive session on Oct. 14.

1Soros maxes out to Connecticut Democrats while banned contractors continue to give

The Connecticut Democratic Party raised nearly $350,000 in individual contributions to its federal account last month, including thousands from state contractors.

The party reported its latest haul to the Federal Elections Commission a week ago. Although state contractors and recipients of state aid are banned from donating to candidates or political parties, they can legally give to a party’s federal account. Democrats drew attention to the practice recently by using the federal account money to support the reelection of Gov. Dannel Malloy, prompting Republicans to sue.

Donors associated with the state contractor HAKS Engineers gave another $20,000 to the Connecticut Democrats last month, bringing their total contributions since last year to $70,000.

Other notable donors include:

Update: John T. Moore, CEO of the Marwood Group, gave $10,000 to the Democratic Party’s federal account last month. His colleague at Marwood, Ted Kennedy Jr., is running for state senate in Branford. Kennedy’s Republican opponent, Bruce Wilson Jr., recently filed a complaint accusing him of using the state party to make contributions over the legal limit.

1Democratic Party uses state contractor money to support Malloy

The Connecticut Democratic Party asked federal regulators earlier this month for permission to use a stockpile of cash from state contractors to support the reelection of Gov. Dannel Malloy, but rather than wait for a response the party began mailing advertisements using the money.

Since at least 2013, the state Democratic Party has used its federal account to collect donations from state contractors who are banned from giving directly to candidates or the party’s state account. The Federal Elections Commission has not ruled on the party’s request to use the money to influence a state election.

In many states, federal rules are stricter than state rules making it unlikely parties would use federal money for state candidates. However, in Connecticut the federal rules are more permissive in the sense that they don’t prevent state contractors from making contributions.

The ban includes owners and top decision makers at companies that have state contracts or receive state aid.

The most prominent example of this conundrum was Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May, who solicited donations from his employees to support Malloy’s reelection through the federal account. At the time, it was thought the federal account could not directly help Malloy, but with the latest request to the FEC the link became clearer.

State law does allow parties to indirectly transfer federal account money to the state account by routing it through a national party committee.

The Democratic Party, through its federal account, has raised money from numerous state contractors and recipients of state aid, contributors who can’t give to the same party’s state account. The ban was put in place after Republican ex-Gov. John Rowland resigned and pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge.

A number of employees at Northeast Utilities donated a year ago after the company’s CEO sent his controversial email. Employees of DOT contractor HAKS Engineers gave the party $45,000 last year and another $10,000 this year. Some of those donations may have been solicited at an event attended by Malloy. Leaders of a joint venture selected by DOT for a $500 million project in Stamford last year gave the party nearly $100,000 in donations since the agency made its decision – and while it negotiated a final agreement.

At least two medical marijuana dispensaries gave to the Democratic Party’s federal account. The Board of Regents chairman appointed by Malloy gave the maximum gift of $10,000 right before his appointment and again this year – as did his wife. One former donor to the Republican Party cynically redirected his support to the Democratic Party’s federal account after Malloy’s election; one of his companies went on to receive $6 million in borrowed state money.

The party also raised money from affordable housing developers, First Five companies, Mystic Aquarium and other recipients of state aid.

1Out-of-state developer, donor gets another $1.3 million; total support $43 million

A Norwalk affordable-housing project received another $1.3 million in state support, bringing total government support to more than $43 million for a project with an out-of-state developer.

Boston-based Trinity Financial is leading the $110 million Washington Village redevelopment.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of the company, gave $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account since 2013. State law would prohibit Lee, as a beneficiary of state funding, from making donations to candidates for state office or to the state party’s account to benefit those candidates. However, recipients of state funding and state contractors can give to the same party’s federal account.

The latest batch of funding is $1.3 million for brownfield remediation. Previously, the project received:

  • $30 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which hopes to convert affordable housing into mixed-income housing.
  • $9.8 million from the state Department of Housing, passing through federal money intended for the Superstorm Sandy recovery.
  • $1.89 million as a low-income housing tax credit.

In November 2013, the party received thousands in donations from others with affordable-housing business, also through its federal account.

0Malloy hosted 200 last year for St. Patrick’s Day bash

A peek inside the Governor’s Residence shows how Dannel Malloy has dealt with the joys and sorrows of being Connecticut’s chief executive.

Some parties were catered, others canceled.

On the joyous side, Malloy hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party for 200 people in 2013, according to documents obtained from the state agency that manages the Governor’s Residence.

After the Newtown school shootings Malloy canceled five holiday receptions.

Among the canceled events was a Dec. 20, 2012, press reception for 100 expected to cost $3,450, according to the documents from the Department of Administrative Services, emails spanning December 2012 to April 2013.

The administration rescheduled some of the canceled events for early 2013, but the documents don’t provide a clear picture of how the rescheduled events match up with the canceled ones.

According to the documents, taxpayers paid for six catered events totaling about $15,000 at the residence during the five-month period with most of that going toward the $6,900 St. Patrick’s Day party.

The March 16 St. Patrick’s Day party cost $30 per person, plus a 15 percent service charge.

On Jan. 10, 2013, Malloy had a “formal sit-down dinner” for eight catered by Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine. The menu included a romaine, fennel and blood orange salad with pomegranate vinaigrette; braised beef short ribs with green peppercorn demi-glace; and warm apple crisp. The dinner, including four extra orders of short ribs, cost $654.47.

Malloy hosted local elected officials for a breakfast on Feb. 6. Mary’s Catering charged $265.50 for 25 people. Another event for local officials on Feb. 26, also handled by Mary’s Catering, cost $1,239 for 75 people.

A Feb. 7 luncheon for commissioners catered by Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine cost $3,584.72.

Culinary Accents catered a cocktail party for “inner-city clergy” on Feb. 15 for $2,625.

Two outgoing members of Malloy’s staff, Roy Occhiogrosso and Andrew McDonald, paid for catered events at the residence. Occhiogrosso, who left the Governor’s Office at the end of 2012 to return to the communications firm Global Strategy Group, paid for a Jan. 11 event at the residence. McDondald, Malloy’s general counsel until he became a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court in January 2013, paid for an event on Feb. 20.

Did Occhiogrosso and McDonald pay for their own farewell parties? The Governor’s Office declined to provide any context about the events, but it appears they may have.

The residence also frequently hosts charitable events. At one April event, according to the emails, a catering worker helped himself to some of Malloy’s personal ice cream and wine.

0McKinney’s law licensed suspended for past decade, owes client security fund more than $1,300

Sen. John McKinney, the Republican minority leader from Fairfield and a candidate for governor, owes $1,330 to the mandatory fund lawyers pay into to protect clients and his license has been under suspension since 2003.

“I have not engaged in the practice of law nor held myself out to be a practicing attorney since I left the private practice of law at Cummings & Lockwood over ten years ago,” McKinney said in a statement. “This is consistent with my annual ethics statements filed since that time. As such, this issue is moot. I am currently in the process of formally submitting retirement papers with the Statewide Grievance Committee to clear this administrative error.”

McKinney faces former Ambassador Tom Foley in the Aug. 12 Republican primary for a chance to take on Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy in November.

Active lawyers in Connecticut are required to pay an annual fee to the client security fund, currently $75. The fund reimburses clients for losses caused by a dishonest attorney.

To avoid paying the fee while not practicing, an attorney can file paperwork to retire, effectively putting one’s license on hold. If a retired attorney wants to begin practicing again, the retirement is revocable.

If a lawyer fails to pay the fee, the Statewide Grievance Committee administratively suspends his or her license. Although it is illegal to practice law with a suspended license, the SGC will reinstate licenses when it receives all overdue fees. The SGC also handles complaints against attorneys.

Malloy, also an attorney, has no record of discipline or suspensions, according to the SGC website.

The SGC first suspended McKinney in July 2003. The SGC also suspended McKinney in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and, last month, 2014. Starting with fees for 2006, the SGC started automatically suspending attorneys for each fee missed. Suspensions are made for missing the prior year’s fee, so the 2014 suspension is for missing payment of the 2013 fee.

Attorneys paying overdue fees must pay a reinstatement fee of $75. Including the restatement fee, McKinney owes $1,330. He didn’t pay $75 in 2002, 2003 or 2004. Between 2005 and 2012, he didn’t pay $110 eight times. He owed $75 for 2013 and another $75 for 2014, although he has not been suspended yet for missing that payment, according to a clerk for the client security fund.

1New Democratic Party landlord gets bond commission funding for another property

The new landlord for the Connecticut Democratic Party received bond commission funds last week to renovate a different property totaling $320,000.

The Capital Region Development Authority will lend the money to 360 Main Street Associates at 3 percent interest for 20 years with a balloon payment in year three.

According to the bond commission agenda, CRDA funding will “assist in conversion of underperforming commercial space into 20 units of housing, including 16 micro units.”

The Connecticut Democratic Party recently moved to 30 Arbor Street. The property owner, 30 Arbor Street LLC, is controlled by Carlos Mouta, according to the Secretary of the State’s online database.

Mouta also controls 360 Main Street Associates according to the same database.

On May 23, according to party filings with the Federal Elections Commission, the Democrats paid $1,420 to 30 Arbor Street LLC for rent.

On June 12, the party made two rent payments to the same entity: $2,334.75 and $994.

0Election regulator says contractor donations to state parties can be “problematic”

New legal advice from the agency that regulates Connecticut elections suggests that state contractors using a common workaround to give money to state political parties could be violating the law in certain scenarios.

Previous advice from the State Elections Enforcement Commission, in the form of an opinion of counsel provided to the Connecticut Democratic Party in 2007, suggested the party “expressly state that it is soliciting funds only for its federal account,” with the word “federal” underlined, “to avoid the appearance of violating the ban against soliciting prohibited contributions.”

New advice issued earlier this month outlines an even more cautious view from the agency suggesting some prominent examples of executives of companies with close ties to the state, including Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May, may have violated state campaign finance laws by donating to the Democratic Party’s federal account with the intent of supporting candidates for state office.

May’s solicitation, first reported by The Courant, asked his employees to give to the party’s federal account and “to join me in financially supporting Connecticut’s Governor Dannel P. Malloy.”

State parties are allowed to keep two separate accounts, one to support candidates for state and local office and another for federal candidates.

The ethics and contracting reforms enacted following the resignation and imprisonment of former Gov. John Rowland made it illegal for state contractors to donate to candidates.

The state contractor ban also prevents them from contributing to a party’s state account. The ban does not apply to candidates for federal office or to a party’s federal account.

Parties are allowed to transfer funds from their federal account to the state account, using the national party as an intermediary, and then to provide direct support for candidates for state office, significantly weakening the ban and obscuring the connections between contractors and the politicians they support.

Even without directly transferring funds, the party accounts are accounting devices with little practical distinction. Parties pay some of their employees with money from both accounts. If an employee paid partially by each account solicits a state contractor to donate to the party, which account is doing the solicitation?

In a July 2, 2014, opinion of counsel, SEEC’s lowest level of legal advice, the agency expanded on its previous advice to the Democratic Party, this time to the principal of a state contractor, William Ducci. According to the Federal Elections Commission website, Ducci has donated to a number of Republican candidates for federal office.

“The short answer to your question is that Connecticut law does not prevent a Connecticut state contractor from contributing to the federal account of the state party committee, to the maximum extent allowed by federal law,” wrote Shannon Clark Kief, SEEC’s legal compliance director. “There would be scenarios where such a contribution would be problematic, for example, if the contribution was solicited for the benefit of Connecticut (non-federal) candidates and that money was later used to make expenditures for that purpose.”

“Such expenditures, if coordinated with the state party committee’s state account, might be considered disguised contributions from the state contractor to the state party committee’s state account. Such contributions would be impermissible for a state contractor to make,” Clark Kief continued. “It is illegal for any person to, directly or indirectly, pay, give, contribute or promise any money or other valuable thing to defray the cost of any campaign or election to any committee, other than to a campaign treasurer. If the contribution was made to the federal account of the state party to defray the cost of a Connecticut candidate’s campaign, that too would be impermissible.”

SEEC spokesman Joshua Foley said “the basic answers are the same” although the law has changed in the time between the two opinions. “It’s more nuanced,” Foley said. “Our thinking on it, I guess, got more refined.”

Ducci, of Ducci Electrical, asked SEEC whether he could contribute to a state party’s federal account without negatively affecting his company’s state contracts.

“Frankly, after waiting all these months, I am very disappointed,” Ducci said. “I asked a very specific question as to whether or not I could contribute, and what I received was a five page ‘Opinion of Counsel.’ What I had hoped for was an answer to my question.”

“The opinion includes several different vague and highly subjective caveats, including who solicited the contribution, what purpose it was solicited for, what the money is ultimately spent on, and which political candidate the money ultimately goes to help, any one of which could make the contribution illegal,” Ducci said. “Bear in mind that most if not all of these are out of my control.”

”I’m not a lawyer, I’m a contractor.  I was trying to do the right thing by asking for a straight answer before making a contribution, but I can’t seem to get one,” Ducci said.

Because of the ambiguity, Ducci said, contractors might get away with giving to the party in power, “but it sure sounds pretty threatening if you are contributing to the other camp.”’

Donors to the Democratic Party’s federal account include:

Employees of companies involved in a joint venture selected by the Department of Transportation to manage a $500 million development in Stamford gave nearly $100,000 since DOT made the decision.

A former Republican-party donor gave almost $6,000 since the election of Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2010, while one of his companies received $4.3 million from the state bond commission and another got $18.2 million of contracts and subcontracts from DOT since 2011.

Two employees of Mystic Aquarium, a beneficiary of state funding, donated $6,000 in January, as have First Five companies, developers of affordable housing and other companies receiving state assistance.

Employees of another DOT contractor, HAKS Engineers, gave $45,000 in November possibly at a fundraiser attended by Malloy and have continued to give this year.

2Norwalk housing project gets millions from taxpayers while Boston-based developer gives to Dems

Connecticut’s oldest public-housing project, Washington Village in Norwalk, has received tens of millions in taxpayer money recently, including $30 million in federal funding this week, while a top leader of the developer in charge of the $110 million project has been contributing regularly to the Connecticut Democratic Party.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy along with Rep. Jim Himes, who represents Norwalk, celebrated the grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development Monday.

The funding is part of HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which hopes to convert affordable housing into mixed-income housing.

On Tuesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy and state Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein announced $9.8 million in additional federal funding passed through Connecticut’s new Department of Housing. HUD awarded Connecticut a total of $31 million for disaster recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

Previously, Washington Village received a $1.89 million low-income housing tax credit.

Boston-based Trinity Financial will redevelop Washington Village with the Norwalk Housing Authority and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of the company, donated $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party in the past year.

In 2013, Lee donated $2,500 on July 18 and again on Aug. 1.

HUD announced the availability of Choice Neighborhoods funding on June 13, 2013, and the deadline for applications was Aug. 12.

Malloy first announced the $9.8 million in disaster funding on April 11.

Lee donated another $2,500 on April 23. He made all of his donations to the party’s federal account. As a top executive at a company that receives state assistance, Lee would be ineligible to give to the party’s state account.

In November 2013, the party received thousands in donations from others with affordable-housing business, also through its federal account.

1Will government unions spend millions on Connecticut politics again?

Connecticut’s public employee unions are big players in the state’s elections, spending millions on their political operations, which may affect 2014 races.

The unions are a highly-focused, highly-motivated interest group when it comes to state-level elections, because the candidates who win will sit directly across the table from them during contract negotiations.

It can be a difficult task to “follow the money” when it comes to unions and campaign spending, but by searching the state’s online database of campaign contributions expenditures, a clearer picture of how much public sector unions are spending on state-level campaigns emerges.

In the two years between the 2010 and 2012 state elections, the largest public sector unions – including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); American Federation of Teachers (AFT); and the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) – spent $834,968.51, on campaigns for state and local offices, the vast majority of it going to candidates or committees from the Democratic and Working Family parties.

The two years between the 2010 and 2012 state elections were tumultuous for state employees – it was during this time that they were in heated negotiations with Gov. Dan Malloy over a new contract.

Contributions to PACs and to candidates made up most of the $800,000-plus in spending, which was given primarily to elect state representatives and state senators since there were no statewide races in 2012.

Federal law requires unions to file disclosures on their political spending. The Department of Labor makes those disclosures available through an online database – unionreports.gov.

According to the disclosures filed with the Department of Labor, Connecticut’s public sector unions SEIU, AFT and AFSCME (none were found for the CEA) spent $4,286,949.85 on political activities in the years 2011-2013.

Anything unions do to support candidates for federal or state office is included in that amount – including political contributions or political activities like getting voters to the polls on election day.