An independent investigator hired by the state Elections Enforcement Commission found one potential conflict of interest in his investigation of the settlements between SEEC staff and the 16 state agency commissioners found in violation of campaign finance laws. Attorney Daniel Klau, who was hired to conduct the investigation told the commission Wednesday that the one problematic settlement for its staff was the one with Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Yelmini.Yelmini was one of the commissioners asked by M. Lisa Moody, Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s chief of staff, to hand out invitations to a Rell fundraiser last year.
Klau said in January during the SEEC’s investigation of the 16 commissioners, Executive Director Jeffrey Garfield and staff, met with Yelmini to begin discussing new staff positions and salary increases, including Garfield’s, that the SEEC would need to implement the 2005 campaign finance legislation. He said while the legislature approved funding for the positions, they still needed DAS approval. Whether this conflict of interest affected the final settlement between the commission and Yelmini, Klau wouldn’t say. He concluded it’s a broader institutional conflict of interest that would exist “regardless of whose at the helm.” He said the executive director of the commission should not be making enforcement decisions one day when the next day he has to lobby the complainant for funds to run the office. “Watchdogs agencies should have the ability to set their own budgets,” Klau said. He recommended the agency seek greater autonomy from the executive and legislative branches of government.Garfield said the agency is already on its way to finding a way to implement all three recommendations in Klau’s report. He said a separation of the commission’s enforcement and administrative responsibilities has already begun. Garfield said the SEEC plans on hiring a director of legal affairs and enforcement to direct the settlement of complaints, while he takes over the administration of the commission, which will double in size commiserate with its added campaign finance functions. Garfield said the more difficult task is finding a way to insulate the commission from the executive and legislative branches of government. “It’s obvious there’s an inherent conflict there,” he said. Klau also investigated the allegation that it was improper for the governor’s campaign manager, Kevin Deneen, to negotiate a settlement on behalf of the commissioners without their knowledge. Klau concluded he didn’t think there was any impropriety in the communications between Deneen and Garfield, but that the commission should look at getting legislation to require the commission to limit its negotiations to individuals whom a complainant has authorized to act on their behalf.