Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register
Ted Kennedy Jr. shakes his Republican opponent, Bruce Wilson’s hand before a debate earlier this month (Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register)

With the race for governor down to a few percentage points, the state Democratic Party has spent nearly 20 percent of its campaign funds on one candidate: Ted Kennedy Jr. 

Kennedy, the son of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy Sr. and nephew of President John F. Kennedy is running for state senate in the 12th district, which includes Branford, Madison, Guilford, Killingworth, and Durham.

In his first run for public office, Kennedy has had more money made available to him than most General Assembly candidates can ever expect to see. In addition to a $94,690 grant through the Citizen’s Election program, the state Democratic Party has spent $207,000 of the $1.1 million in its state account on his campaign.

The state party’s most recent financial disclosure forms, released Friday, showed that friends, family and business associates of Kennedy have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the state party in the past few months. Associates at Kennedy’s healthcare consulting firm, Marwood Group, donated $20,500 to the party since July.

Democratic party spokesman Devon Puglia said Monday that Democrats have spent so much on Kennedy’s campaign because “this is an important race, in a historically Republican district, with a candidate who has extraordinary potential. We’re not taking any chances with someone who has such a bright future.”

Under the Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, a candidate who takes a public financing grant can only use $2,000 of their own money on their campaign and can’t continue to raise money, but the state party is not limited in how much money it can spend on candidates. That law was changed in 2013.

Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said the impetus behind that change was so the parties could compete with spending by outside groups. Swan said that’s why they pushed for greater disclosure under the law. It was supposed to be a solution to preventing the type of “dark money” being spent by an Ohio group. The group, which does not have to disclose its donors, gave $1.17 million to a PAC affiliated with the Republican Governors Association.

Madison Republican Town Chairman Tom Banisch filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission alleging that what the Democratic Party has done by funneling donations to Kennedy’s campaign is illegal. Last week, the SEEC opened an investigation into the matter, which won’t be resolved until after next Tuesday’s election.

“It is illegal for donors to earmark contributions made to a state central committee for specific candidates, just as it is illegal for the DSCC to make a “quid pro quo” promise to spend earmarked contributions on specific races,” Banisch said Monday.

John Murphy, Kennedy’s campaign manager, dismissed the allegations in Banisch’s complaint Tuesday. He said it “was not a quid pro quo.”

“He’s raised money for the party before,” Murphy said. “The only thing that’s different this year is that he’s a candidate.”

While it’s not unheard of for hundreds of thousands to be spent on state senate races in Connecticut, disclosure laws and the public campaign financing system passed in the wake of the former Gov. John Rowland’s corruption scandal made it far less common.

Kennedy is receiving considerable support from state Democrats, but he’s only the second largest recipient of funds. Gov. Dannel Malloy has received $570,000 from the state party since July. In a distant third place is 8th District state senate candidate Melissa Osborne, who has received $7,000 from the state party. Kennedy and Osborne were the only two Senate candidates to receive money from the party.

“Such treatment of one single candidate above and beyond all other legislators, when numerous other districts are much more competitive and many incumbents are facing tough election challenges, makes one wonder why Kennedy deserves such treatment,” Banisch said Monday in his updated complaint.

Bruce Wilson, Kennedy’s Republican opponent, pointed out that when Kennedy announced his campaign he promised to raise money only from people in the district.

“That promise has been broken plain and simple. Mr. Kennedy this seat is not for sale. Apologize to the people and return their money,” Wilson said Tuesday.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.