The State Elections Enforcement Commission took no action Wednesday on a complaint against former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s exploratory committee for its development of a political poll conducted by a University of Connecticut professor and two graduate students in May 2009 as she pondered a potential re-election bid.
Lawyers for the commission pointed out that Thomas Filomeno, Rell’s campaign treasurer, was unaware of the $6,000 telephone conducted by Braun Research, Inc. out of New Jersey until he was asked to render payment for it.
Lawyers also said the Rell campaign was unaware that Kenneth Dautrich, the Uconn professor who volunteered to conduct the poll, ended up paying two graduate students for their time working on the poll.
James Talbert-Slagle, the attorney who worked on the case, said the problem arose when Dautrich authorized the use of two grad students.
“UConn ended up paying them for their work on a partisan poll,” he said. “[Dautrich] did not notify the campaign treasurer about the labor of the grad students.”
Charles Urso, the lead investigator and former FBI agent, said there’s a distinction between what the campaign knew and what happened. “The governor’s campaign staff did not know the grad students were used,” he said. And there’s nothing in the records produced as a result of the polling to indicate any student labor or involvement.
When they campaign received the report they thought they were getting Dautrich’s work product, Urso said.
While Dautrich himself volunteered to work without pay for the campaign to conduct the poll, he was unable to volunteer his graduate students for the same purpose and they ended up getting paid with state funds. Dautrich paid a civil penalty of $2,000 for using the students in a separate complaint initiated by the SEEC based on information it retained from the first complaint. The work the students did was valued at $2,582.52.
Jonathan Pelto, the political strategist who filed the first complaint with the commission, said Wednesday that he remains convinced the Rell campaign knew or should have known it was receiving a $20,000 poll for $6,000. According to the complaint Dautrich was able to get the polling company to charge the campaign just $6,000 for the telephone poll based on the volume of work he does with the company.
“The commission failed to comment on that piece of it, but the fact remains she got something no other candidate could have gotten,” Pelto said.
The complaint concluded that Braun was paid fair market value for their services and the allegation is without merit. They also concluded the poll was permissible under the law, but that Rell should have gotten her treasurer’s permission to retain the polling company before authorizing the poll to be conducted.
An Oct. 2010 report by the University of Connecticut into the matter concluded Dautrich used graduate students for partisan political activity, a violation of the university’s code of ethics.
This matter is still pending with the state Auditor’s of Public Accounts and Attorney General’s office where a whistleblower complaint has been filed.