Hugh McQuaid File Photo
Tom Foley speaks at a Connecticut Policy Institute press conference in March (Hugh McQuaid File Photo)

State Democrats filed a complaint against Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley Thursday, asking election regulators to investigate his campaign’s use of policy language from a think tank Foley founded. 

Foley is running against Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whom he narrowly lost to in 2010. After Foley released an urban strategies plan Wednesday, Democrats quickly accused the candidate of plagiarizing sections of the plan from the work of three think tanks, including the Connecticut Policy Institute. Foley founded the group in 2011.

In a complaint to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Democrats argued that Foley’s use of the policy institute’s work amounts to an illegal contribution and coordination.

“Tom Foley’s plagiarism goes beyond lifting sentences and ideas word-for-word — they constitute clear election law violations. Through copying CPI’s work, the Foley campaign has made it an illegal arm of its political operation, effectively illegally self-financing and funneling contributions in violation of the law,” Democratic Party spokesman Devon Puglia said.

Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Foley’s campaign, dismissed the complaint and defended Foley’s plan as “enthusiastically received in Connecticut’s cities.”

“Cutting the car tax by 60 percent in Hartford and more than 25 percent in New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury will help struggling households. Tom’s plan to restore urban jobs, cut taxes on small businesses, support small and minority contractors, help ex-offenders, and fix underperforming urban schools will reverse three and a half years of urban neglect by Governor Malloy,” Cooper said.

In the complaint, the party claims Foley violated election laws by self-financing the work of the policy institute, which was adopted by the campaign. Like Malloy, Foley is participating in the state’s public campaign financing system. That means he can spend a $6.5 million public grant, but is restricted from spending his own money or accepting contributions.

Back in March,
Foley’s campaign emailed reporters an advisory on the release of the Connecticut Policy Institute’s urban policy recommendations. Foley appeared at the press conference and told reporters he did not plan to adopt the recommendations directly but would use them as a “framework.”

“In terms of my campaign and developing an urban policy agenda of my own, this a good framework to start from,” he said.

The complaint accuses Foley of adopting the recommendations as a “pre-packaged policy platform.”

“Through his personal founding and financial support of CPI, and now his wholesale adoption of CPI policies and recommendations, Tom Foley has effectively self-financed major components of his campaign policy platform in violation” of election law,” the complaint reads.

Foley’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, a spokesman defended the campaign last week against the Democrats’ plagiarism allegations.

“The urban policy agenda released yesterday is largely drawn from the work of the Connecticut Policy institute, a think tank Tom Foley founded and he has said from the start would be the foundation of his urban policy agenda,” Cooper said. “Borrowing policy ideas from states that have successfully road tested new policy initiatives is not plagiarism – it’s smart.”

The Democrats’ complaint also points to personal connections between Foley, CPI, and Grow Connecticut, a Super PAC funded by the Republican Governors Association. Foley’s wife Leslie Fahrenkopf Foley is CPI’s director, according to paperwork filed with the Secretary of the State’s Office.

Meanwhile, Craig Stapleton, a member of the policy institute’s advisory board, donated $25,000 to Grow Connecticut, the complaint says.

It is not the first complaint the Democrats have filed against Foley this election cycle—they made a complaint in July accusing him of spending public dollars before he received them. However, neither complaint is likely to be resolved before the election.

Joshua Foley, staff attorney at the Elections Enforcement Commission, said the commission will be incorporating complaints alleging expenditure and contribution violations into its thorough post-election audits.

The delay keeps regulators from redundant investigative work on campaigns they will later be auditing anyways. It also precludes critics from claiming the commission tipped the scales in favor of one candidate or the other by ruling on a complaint before Election Day.

Last year, Foley agreed to pay the State Elections Enforcement Commission $15,504, to cover the cost of a poll his campaign commissioned before he had officially declared his candidacy.