CHESHIRE, CT — Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said he got up at 6 a.m. Thursday and headed to campaign headquarters in Hartford to figure out what he has to do to change how money is being spent on Connecticut elections.
A few hours later he was at Dana Bartone and Co. in Cheshire with Liz Linehan, a candidate for the 103rd House District, decrying how millions of dollars are being spent legally by outside groups, including labor unions, on the 2016 election.
Under the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the money can be spent legally on dozens of state legislative races as long as the outside group doesn’t coordinate its spending with the candidate.
Just yesterday, spending by a month-old labor PAC may have had unintended consequences for the candidate it was supporting in that House District. The ad likened Dr. William A. Petit, who lost his wife and daughters in a 2007 home invasion, to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“Stop Donald Trump and Republican William Petit’s attack on women and families,” the ad, which has since been removed, said.
Petit is running for a state House seat in Plainville. Since the 2007 murder of his family, Petit started the Petit Family Foundation, which dedicates its funding to causes that protect and promote women and children.
“I think it was absolutely disgusting. It was absolutely vile and someone should lose their job,” Aresimowicz said of the Labor United for Connecticut ad. “I further think that having any independent expenditures in the state of Connecticut — we should find a way to make it against the law.”
Aresimowicz, who works for AFSCME Council 4, said he understands the Supreme Court decision makes it legal, but it causes the constituents in the district to lose their voice when large corporations and labor unions can say things that are inconsistent with what the constituents want.
“We should not allow it,” Aresimowicz said. “Regardless of who is doing it.”
He said he asked who he needed to scream at about the ad opposing Petit, but “I was told by my attorneys that I can’t.” He said he’s not allowed to talk to Paul Filson, executive director of the SEIU state council, until after the election because Filson’s group is doing independent expenditures.
He said he wants to talk to his constituents with the money he receives from the clean election program and he doesn’t want outside groups interfering with his ability to do that.
“I just don’t think these independent expenditures should be allowed,” Aresimowicz said. “And the messages put out are not consistent with our beliefs.”
In the next week, Aresimowicz said he will unveil a plan to inhibit independent expenditures as much as legally possible in Connecticut.
“If I say something about my opponent, I should put my name at the bottom and stand by it,” Aresimowicz said. “. . . This independent expenditure circumvents the spirit of what we wanted to do with clean financing.”
On Wednesday night, Grow Connecticut, a super PAC that received funding from the Republican State Leadership Committee, started a $350,000 digital web ad campaign targeting three Senate races and at least 10 House races. The Republican State Leadership Committee is a Washington D.C.-based 527 group that receives money from thousands of large corporations like Wal-Mart and the Koch Brothers Inc.
The one video ad the group has posted on YouTube says “Governor Malloy and Democratic legislators have borrowed, spent and taxed too much. Jobs are leaving. So are families.”
The ad goes onto say that Republicans have a plan to fix the economy.
The same group participated in the 2014 election and supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley with about $8.85 million in spending against Malloy. Most of the funding for the group that year came from the Republican Governors Association.
Aresimowicz said he believes the advertising by Grow Connecticut will backfire because Connecticut voters have repeatedly rejected the idea of millionaires coming in and trying to steal an election.
“The people of Connecticut have a voice and I think they’re going to exercise it on Nov. 8,” Aresimowicz said.
Liz Kurantowicz, treasurer of Grow Connecticut, said the Democrats can try and deny it all they want but “one party rule in Hartford has been a disaster.”
She said she’s going to continue to talk about policy in her advertising materials while “Democrats continue to make things personal like they did in that disgusting ad against Petit.”
She said Aresimowicz and the Democrats can talk about campaign finance reform all they want, but as long as “they refuse to answer for their record, which includes two of the largest tax hikes in history,” then they aren’t going to get re-elected.
The biggest opposition Aresimowicz may face to reforming campaign laws may come from Democrats in his own party in the state Senate, which has dismissed past proposals to limit organization expenditures from the state party.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called Aresimowicz’s comments hypocritical.
He said if he had a problem with where the money was coming from then he could have voted against changes to Connecticut’s campaign finance system or he could have voiced his concern when the Democratic Party used money raised for federal races on state candidates. A federal grand jury is still investigating the use of those funds. The Democratic Party settled its dispute with state election regulators for $325,000.
“Whether you like it or not, you can’t stop people from voicing political speech,” Fasano said. “Freedom of speech is a constitutional right. But you can take action to prevent dirty money from making its way into campaigns, and that’s a stand Rep. Aresimowicz has failed to take.”