Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie
Republican Party Chairman JR Romano (Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie)

Without a 2018 gubernatorial candidate to unite behind, the Connecticut Democratic Party appears to be trying to discredit Republican candidates who have expressed interest in the job.

Only one Democrat, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, has formed a committee to explore a possible run for governor. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has declined to say whether he will seek a third term, while a handful of potential Democratic candidates wait on the bench. At least three of the four Republican candidates who are exploring a run for statewide office have started raising money and filed their reports with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst announced on Friday.

Last week, the Connecticut Democratic Party accused three of the Republican candidates of accepting money from state contractors. Donations from the owners or principals of companies with state contracts are prohibited under Connecticut’s clean election laws established in 2005.

“In their first test as candidates, this is not a good look for Connecticut Republicans exploring statewide office,” Connecticut Democratic Party Executive Director Michael Mandell said. “It’s time for all of these candidates to admit they have solicited contributions from prohibited donors and return those donations.”

The press release details seven donations to Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, one to Peter Lumaj, and four to Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury.

Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said that the Democratic Party has proven time-and-time again that they don’t understand campaign finance laws.

“I don’t think the Democrats are interpreting the rules correctly,” Romano said.

However, Romano said that wasn’t surprising.

“It’s absolutely hysterical that Connecticut Democrats who paid a $325,000 fine and are under a federal grand jury investigation would make these types of accusations,” Romano said. “Maybe they should stop and consider their own fundraising practices.”

Romano is referring to the $325,000 fine the Democratic Party paid to state election regulators to settle a dispute about how they spent close to $1 million during Malloy’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Connecticut law allows employees of state contractors, who aren’t considered principals or owners with more than a five percent interest in the business, to donate $100 or less to a clean election candidate.

“With over 500 individual donors it is not uncommon that an issue like this might come up,” Lumaj, who ran a very close race for Secretary of the State in 2014, said. “I have not had an opportunity to speak with my treasurer regarding the potential issue, but rest assured, if there is an issue with the donation, it will be addressed and returned.”

Lumaj has raised more than $105,000. The threshold to qualify for governor is $250,000 and because some donations are disqualified in the process it’s necessary to raise more than that. Boughton has raised about $26,000 in seven weeks since announcing and Srinivasan has raised $12,700.

The law gives campaigns a grace period in which to disqualify a donation if they later learn it may not qualify. The person donating to the campaign must certify that they are not considered a state contractor under the campaign law. A campaign has the ability to return a donation it may have received from a state contractor without penalty within 30 days of receiving it.

“These are childish deflection tactics,” Romano said. “They still don’t know the rules.”