(Updated) Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Tom Foley is crying foul and questioning the integrity of the State Elections Enforcement Commission on the eve of a meeting during which public financing will be approved for one of his opponents.
Foley, who has poured $2 million of his own money into the campaign, released a statement Wednesday questioning the guidance provided by the commission to his opponents, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, in allowing them to file jointly.
Because Fedele and Boughton filed jointly, they will receive only one grant. That means Boughton will not receive a separate $375,000 grant for lieutenant governor and the campaign will be run through Fedele’s campaign treasurer. By raising the required $250,000 in small qualifying contributions, the Fedele-Boughton campaign is expected to receive upward of $1.25 million at Thursday’s commission meeting.
“The SEEC has shown from its actions that it intends to interpret the CEP statute very loosely and, frankly, contrary to how the statute was written,” Justin Clark, Foley’s campaign manager, said. “It appears that the commission has a strong bias in favor of approving grants, even when applicants have not qualified under any reasonable reading of the statute.”
Beth Rotman, executive director of the Citizens’ Election Program, said there were a lot of questions from candidates about filing jointly so the commission released an advisory ruling June 3 specifically addressing the issue. She said that when the ruling was made, it was sent to each campaign.
“When the Governor candidate and Lieutenant Governor candidate are each participating in the CEP, the two candidates may choose to “campaign jointly” and be funded by a joint gubernatorial committee during the primary campaign period,” the advisory ruling reads. “Once a SEEC Form CEP 18 is filed indicating that a participating lieutenant governor candidate and a participating governor candidate are campaigning jointly, the governor’s candidate committee can make expenditures promoting both the governor and lieutenant governor candidates.”
Rotman said that if the Foley campaign didn’t like the ruling, it could have filed a request for a declaratory ruling and the commission would have reconsidered it. She said the Foley campaign decided not to do that.
“We disagree with the SEEC’s interpretation of the reporting statute and we have sought an opinion from them on that issue,” Foley’s campaign said.
And even though it threw the first punch on this issue, the Foley campaign is unlikely to win the battle. That is because as of midnight Saturday it was referred to SEEC for enforcement action. By not filing an updated campaign finance report with the SEEC within 48 hours of Fedele’s application last Thursday, it was allegedly in violation of state election law.
Ned Lamont, the Democrat who also opted out of the public finance system, made the same mistake as Foley by not reporting a $1 million contribution he and his wife made to his campaign. Lamont reported himself to the SEEC when it was discovered and took a swift beating from his opponent.
Rotman said the Foley campaign has been referred for enforcement action and could face upwards of a $1,000 fine. She said the fine starts at $1,000 but is left up to the discretion of the commission.
Foley’s indiscretion for failing to report fundraising totals may not impact Fedele’s ability to get his hands on the additional state money, because Foley already reported in April that his campaign raised $2.4 million.
Rotman said that is enough to trigger the $937,500 in additional funds for Fedele’s primary campaign, bringing the total check up to about $2.18 million. She said it is possible Fedele also could qualify for the extra $312,000 grant, which will bring his total for the primary up to $2.5 million.
There is a downside to filing jointly.
Unlike candidates that decide to file their campaign finances separately, Fedele will have to share his money with Boughton, who will stand independently before the voters on Aug. 10. Boughton will square off against Lisa Wilson-Foley in the primary and the winner will have to team up with Foley, Fedele, or R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel.
Griebel has raised about $244,000 according to his last report filed in April. He also has opted out of the public campaign system.