Christine Stuart photo
SEEC Commissioner Sal Bramante and Staff Attorney Kevin Ahern (Christine Stuart photo)

The State Elections Enforcement Commission voted unanimously Thursday to ask Attorney General George Jepsen’s office to take the Democratic Party to court to enforce its investigatory subpoena.

The Connecticut Democratic Party told the SEEC that it wouldn’t comply with its subpoena regarding several October 2014 election mailings featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The Democratic Party initially asked the Federal Elections Commission to find out if it was okay to send the mailers with federal funds. State election law bans state contractors from contributing to statewide candidates, but the federal account the party used allows those contractors to contribute.

A draft decision by the FEC shows it was poised to rule against the Connecticut Democratic Party. However, the party withdrew its request for the ruling before it could be issued and went ahead and sent the mailings to prospective voters anyway. A spokesman for the Democratic Party said it’s far from clear that the FEC was going to rule against it, and also that key lawyers were “required to be in court in Connecticut, defending the Connecticut Republican Party’s lawsuit, at the same time the FEC hearing was scheduled in Washington.”

What is clear, is that the Republican Party filed a complaint with state election regulators shortly after that.

As part of the ensuing investigation, the SEEC served the Democratic State Central Committee with a subpoena at the end of May. On June 15, David Golub, the attorney for the Democratic Party, told the SEEC that it would not be complying with the subpoena.

“We continue to hold out hope the DSCC will change its course,” Kevin Ahern, staff attorney for the SEEC, said Thursday. “However, the matter is now 8 months old and very little progress has been made in securing the information necessary for this investigation to continue.”

In the June 15 letter, Golub said the “Commission lacks the authority to proceed with its investigation of Mr. Labriola’s Complaint and the subpoena issued by the Commission is without lawful basis.”

Ahern said the last time the commission was forced to use the courts to enforce a subpoena was 17 years ago. Since then, 2,000 cases have been investigated without the need to seek “such extraordinary action.”

He said the Democratic Party’s decision not to comply with the subpoena had hindered the commission’s ability to operate.

“The Democratic State Central Committee’s refusal to adequately cooperate with this investigation, including but not limited to its unlawful defiance of a validly issued investigatory subpoena, obstructs the commission’s ability to do its job,” Ahern said.

Republican Party Chairman JR Romano, who inherited the complaint against the Democratic Party and Malloy from his predecessor, Jerry Labriola Jr., said that “secrecy and backdoor deals [are] how the Connecticut Democrats want to operate and the public is tired of it.”

The Democrats “continue to live in a fantasy land, whether it’s higher taxes or state election laws, they want to make their own rules,” Romano added.

A spokesman for the Democratic Party said they’ve never dismissed the seriousness of the complaint, but they believe it should be “heard by an objective authority.”

The Connecticut Democratic Party contends that the State Elections Enforcement Commission is no longer the objective, watchdog agency it’s required to be.

“This decision today is in no way surprising. It is clear through emails we have obtained that SEEC staff members demonstrate a political agenda throughout this process,” Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said. “Let’s be very clear: this is a state agency tasked with fairly and impartially enforcing election activity, but it is abundantly clear that the SEEC had their mind made up before even hearing the important legal issues at hand.”

In his letter, Golub complained that the staff at the SEEC encouraged the Republican Party to file the complaint and leaked the investigatory subpoena to the news media.

“The conflict can be resolved through discussion with Connecticut political parties, as I have repeatedly suggested, or by litigation of the federal pre-emption and First Amendment issues. The Commission’s attempt to avoid the legal issue by resorting to an improper subpoena will, ultimately, further no legitimate interest,” Golub wrote.

Specifically, the subpoena requested information about how the mailings were funded and any information about how the message was developed. Regulators also requested all documents and communications related to contributions over $1,000 received by the Democratic State Central Committee that were solicited by Malloy for any federal account.

Further, the subpoena sought information related to meetings between Malloy, former Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris, Campaign Manager Jonathan Blair, Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian, and Roy Occhiogrosso, a consultant with Global Strategies Group and a former Malloy adviser.

The subpoena also sought copies of any polls conducted during the 2014 election and paid for by the Democratic Party from “any account.”