State election regulators have dismissed a Newington attorney’s complaint that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was a candidate long before he declared his re-election campaign at the end of March.
Ben Ancona, a Newington attorney, complained in October 2013 that Malloy and his former senior communications adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, and Occhiogrosso’s political consulting firm, conducted a poll in January that sought to promote his re-election. The poll was paid for by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN.
According to the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s findings, ConnCAN hired Global Strategies Group, the political consulting firm Occhiogrosso went back to in December 2013 after leaving the governor’s office.
The poll was conducted in January and released to the news media in February 2013.
The press release on the poll cited specific data showing that the majority of respondents reported supporting “the Governor’s” reform efforts in the specific issue area of education, according to election regulators. However, the “horse race” for governor in 2014 was not explicitly discussed.
“The focus on the communication is on the education reforms — not the election, any candidate or the Respondent’s record in general,” the decisions reads.
The information from the poll was distributed to the news media via press release, but it was not an advertisement broadcast by television, radio, newspaper, magazine, or billboard within 90 days of an election.
The poll was paid for by ConnCAN, “an entity whose major purpose was not the election of candidates.” And the two main contacts for ConnCAN at Global Strategies Group were Julie Hootkin and Ben Nowak, according to the interview state election regulators had with ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander.
“Assuming the truth of the complainant’s allegation of coordination by and between the respondent and ConnCAN (through GSG and/or Mr. Occhiogrosso) and considering the communication’s content and context as a whole, the Commission does not conclude that it is more likely than not that it promotes, attacks, supports or opposes the candidacy of any person and as such the Commission concludes that the evidence is insufficient to show that the communication was an expenditure,” the SEEC decision reads.
Election regulators say that’s far different than the poll Republican Tom Foley conducted, which they found triggered his candidacy and forced him to pay a fine.
The poll was conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican polling and strategy firm in Virginia, and was commissioned by Voters for Good Government Inc., a firm run by Justin Clark, Foley’s 2010 campaign manager.
“These items were promotional of a Foley candidacy and as such were deemed to be made for the purpose of influencing Mr. Foley’s nomination for election to public office,” SEEC Attorney Kevin Ahern concluded. “This act automatically triggered Mr. Foley’s candidacy for public office.”
Election regulators also tossed aside allegations that Malloy participated in fundraising events for ConnCAN and Prosperity for Connecticut, a PAC founded by James Wade, a partner in a prestigious Hartford law firm and outside counsel to the Connecticut Democratic Party for the past 20 years.
“Until recently, the Commission had consistently held that ‘participating’ in fundraisers constitutes a ‘solicitation’ on behalf of the committee holding the fundraiser, even if such participation is limited to mere attendance,” the decision reads. However that was changed in the campaign reform legislation passed June 18, 2013.
Election regulators claim that the allegation is not specific about how many fundraisers occurred before or after the effective date of the change.
“The allegations also do not allege that any specific expenditures on behalf of the Respondent have been made with monies solicited by the Respondent,” the decision reads. “Even assuming that the fundraisers occurred prior to the effective date of the change of the definition of ‘solicit’ (and assuming that the Complainant’s allegations of the Respondent’s attendance are true) the activity alleged was not impermissible.”
Since Ancona’s complaint was dismissed it cleared the way for Malloy to receive the $6.5 million in public financing Wednesday. However, Ancona has take his complaint to Superior Court.
A hearing on the case will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 24.