CTNewsJunkie file photo
JR Romano oversees the Republican Convention in May (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said he called the State Elections Enforcement Commission earlier this week to make sure Democratic lawmakers running for re-election know the rules about using a candidate for another office in their campaign materials.

Just in case some of them may want to refer to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in those materials, Romano thought it was best for Democrats to know the rules in advance.

“I’m reminding Democrats about the rules because they like to violate them,” Romano said Thursday.

The comment was a dig at the Democratic Party, which last week settled a 2014 complaint that involved accusations that it expended federal campaign funds on Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election effort. The party and election regulators settled the case after a nearly two-year court battle. The Democratic Party agreed to pay $325,000 as part of the settlement.

A spokesman for the State Elections Enforcement Commission would not comment on Romano’s conversation with SEEC Executive Director Michael Brandi. However, he pointed to the 2014 decision that “describes in detail when and how campaigns and committees must allocate joint expenditures for communications.”

In 2014, the State Elections Enforcement Commission issued this opinion,  which said that if a candidate wants to mention another candidate who is not in the race, they can, they just have to apportion the cost of the ad to the opponent in that other race.

“For example, if participating state senate candidate Jones ran an ad disparaging participating gubernatorial candidate Smith, it would generally not be considered a permissible expenditure by Jones’ candidate committee,” according to the October 2014 ruling.

However, the ruling goes on to say that “If candidate Jones wishes to produce such an ad, it would be permissible if it were paid for jointly with a committee that could legally support candidate Smith’s opponent or oppose candidate Smith. In this example, that could be the candidate committee of Smith’s opponent, or alternatively could be a state central committee, or any town committee — all of which may make organization expenditures opposing candidate Smith.”

The ruling came after Malloy started showing up in Republican mailings. Republicans were using the mail pieces to show how cozy the Democratic lawmakers were with the governor and hoping that coziness would be frowned upon by voters.

If they were to use the 2014 opinion cited above as guidance, Tom Foley, who was the Republican gubernatorial nominee or the Republican Party, should have contributed to the cost of those mailings. That didn’t happen.

However, the SEEC has not made any information available about the disposition of those 2014 complaints against Republicans.

Meanwhile, Romano said he just wanted to make sure the Democrats had seen the 2014 opinion, which was released just two weeks before the election.

Romano’s attempt to get clarification prompted criticism from Democrats.

“JR Romano and the Republicans are hypocrites,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said. “In 2014, after SEEC had ruled against the practice, Republican candidates statewide continued to send campaign mailers posing their Democratic opponents with Governor Malloy. Inexplicably, SEEC has yet to announce rulings on the 11 separate complaints filed in 2014 against those Republican candidates, but Mr. Romano should clean the Republicans’ own dirty hands before trying to whitewash the fact that they chose a racist, misogynist as their leader.”

Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, wondered if Romano’s request means Republican legislative leaders are really that afraid of being held accountable for their support of Trump.

“I mean, we understand that it might be bad politics to be seen as supporting a racist, hateful loudmouth with policy proposals that would send the U.S. economy into prolonged recession and cost 3.5 million jobs,” Appleby said. “But the truth of the matter is that they did endorse that racist, hateful loudmouth, and they — and the many GOP legislators supporting Trump — will be held to account.”

Romano said this has nothing to do with Trump and everything to do with the Democratic Party’s failure to comply with election laws.

It’s likely that if candidates from either party want to use Trump or Hillary Clinton in their campaign materials, a portion will have to be paid for by a federal campaign account. The SEEC expects to issue guidance on that issue in the near future.