The Government Administration and Elections Committee heard little testimony Wednesday as it began its inquiry into the Elections Enforcement Commission’s settlement over fundraising violations with Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s campaign.The committee was unable to agree on its rules of engagement and ended up embattled in a long five-hour partisan debate over whether the investigation was an attempt to retry the Election Enforcement Commission’s decision or an attempt to study the issue to find out if certain laws need clarification.
Rep. Robert Farr, R-West Hartford, said “It’s not just a difference of opinion.” He said the issues raised about the rules of engagement were about what function the legislative committee serves. Farr described the committee hearing Wednesday as the “Jerry Springer Show” minus the tossing of the chairs and the pole dancers. Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca, R-Woodbury, who is not a member of the committee, pointed out that all the votes on the rules of engagement were down party lines. “No partisanship was shown here,” he said sarcastically. Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the committee, said the rules in place allow both parties to participate in the process. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he added. He said if the Republicans know of an Elections Enforcement complaint that rises to the same level as this one then “I’m sure the committee would be willing to address it too.” What makes the situation in question so unusual Caruso said is the fact that it involves 16 public officials in violation of campaign laws. In addition it is the first time since the law that prohibits their action has been enforced, he said. M. Lisa Moody, Rell’s chief of staff, delivered invitations for Rell’s Dec. 7 fundraiser to 16 commissioners, who in turn, handed out the invitations to their subordinates during the course of the work day. Shocked and dismayed by the actions, Rell released a Dec. 16, 2005 statement that said her campaign “would return all contributions from a fund-raiser that has been called into question.“As a result of the commission’s decision, each of the 16 commissioners was fined $500 and Moody was suspended by Rell for two-weeks, without pay, during the Christmas holiday season. On Wednesday the committee called Luigi Vasquez, Rell’s campaign treasurer, and Daniel Moreland, aide to Rell’s chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody, to testify at 1 p.m. But more than two hours later the committee was still in a debate over the rules, so they asked Moreland to return Thursday and recessed for about 15-minutes before hearing Vasquez’s testimony. Vasquez told the committee he didn’t attended the Dec. 7 fundraiser at the Marco Polo in East Hartford. In fact he didn’t even know about it. In addition, the contributions taken in that night were never deposited into the campaign account and never refunded out of the campaign account. So who collected the money that night? That is one of the many questions the committee has left to answer, Caruso said. Beside Moreland, the committee will hear Thursday from former campaign treasurer, Peggy Deschenes and Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Linda J. Yelmini. Yelmini was one of the 16 commissioners fined by the commission.According to emails Yelmini submitted to the committee, she didn’t want to go along with the settlement, Caruso said. Did the Rell campaign and Deneen strongarm her? Tomorrow we find out. Stay tuned.