Christine Stuart file photo
Sen. John McKinney (Christine Stuart file photo)

Sen. John McKinney, who is running for governor, was recently forced to refund $500 in donations from five state contractors or prospective contractors who are banned from giving donations.

Since February, McKinney has returned $100 donations from Jonathan Gavin, president of United Concrete Products Inc. and his wife, Lorene Gavin, as well as William Valus, owner of Encon Inc. in Stratford, and Valus’ wife, Maureen. McKinney also returned a $100 donation from Anthony Scillia of Marcum LLP, an accounting company that is listed as state contractor. The companies show up on thelist of state contractors banned from giving to statewide campaigns.

McKinney’s campaign also refunded donations based on the “perception of a potential conflict of interest.” The family of Michael Ajello, who McKinney appointed to the state Elections Enforcement Commission last November, received a refund on his $100 contribution. Three others with the same last name as Ajello also received refunds.

Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo pounced on the mistake earlier this week and criticized McKinney, who is one of six candidates vying for the Republican nomination for governor.

“John McKinney looked straight into the camera at the GOP debate and lied to the citizens of Connecticut about not taking state contractor money into his campaign — a practice that is already banned,” DiNardo said. “Not only was John McKinney busted for accepting state contractor money back in February, but the finance report he filed just days before the GOP debate shows he continued to take banned contributions.”

DiNardo was referring to the statements McKinney made last week during the first televised Republican debate.

“As governor I’ll clean up that system and I won’t take a penny from state contractors into our campaign,” McKinney said during the debate.

In a phone interview Monday, McKinney said he stood by that statement. McKinney said the donations were returned once the mistake was discovered. He said they are only as good as the information the donor shares on the forms.

He said that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy “has literally taken millions for the state party” from people who do business with the state. McKinney pointed to an email sent by a top executive at Northeast Utilities, to about 50 managers asking them to donate money to the party to help re-elect Malloy before he was even a candidate.

McKinney said the Democrats have been raising money knowing they will now be able to spend unlimited amounts on a gubernatorial candidate under a law it passed last summer.

After the new law was passed, Malloy was vocal about his attempts to raise money for the Democratic Party before officially announcing his re-election bid at the end of March.

McKinney said as governor he will seek to change the law so the state party can not receive contributions from state contractors.

However, no matter what happens at the state level, the state party has always been able to receive contributions from state contractors to its federal account, which is allowed to spend money on federal candidates and administrative costs.

A handful of state contractors made the mistake last year of donating to the party’s state account instead of its federal account.

The Connecticut Democratic Party had to refund $40,000 in donations in December because at least three of the four were made by state contractors who were banned from giving to the party’s state account.

At the time, the Democratic Party declined to specify why the donations were returned to the specific individuals.

“The Connecticut Democratic Party relies on the information provided directly by donors on our contribution forms,” James Hallinan, then-spokesman for the party, said. “Additionally, we cross-reference donor information for non-federal contributions with information listed on the SEEC’s Prohibited State Contractors and Prospective State Contractors lists. If we identify any irregularities, we issue a refund to the contributor. If we identify any irregularities involving contribution limits, we issue a refund to the contributor.”

DiNardo and the Democratic Party believe there are more state contractor donations that McKinney received as part of his latest report, which covers fundraising for the first quarter of the year.

McKinney said they will adhere to the law and if there are mistakes they will be corrected.