Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, Majority Leader Matt Ritter, and Reps. Liz Linehan and Michael Winkler (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — House Democrats filed an election complaint Wednesday against an independent expenditure group that is planning to target General Assembly races.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he’s personally been targeted by the independent expenditure group Change Connecticut. He said they think the group is coming in to benefit Republican candidates, but they don’t know for certain because it hasn’t declared which candidates its targeting.

Change Connecticut has spent more than $225,000 in Connecticut. At least $99,000 of that was on opposition research with a company called Percipient Strategies LLC. The firms website says it was started by communications staffers from the Republican National Committee.

“They have yet to declare who they’re benefitting,” Aresimowicz said. “This flies in the face of what we expect here in Connecticut.”

A spokesman for Change Connecticut told CTNewsJunkie Wednesday that the group doesn’t know which candidates it plans to spend money on yet.

“The research is done to determine which districts we believe will be the best use of resources,” Ben Davol, a spokesman for Change Connecticut said. “No decisions have been made on which districts to support.”

The opposition research and polling the group has done may never be used to benefit or disadvantage a candidate.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said the four state representatives who have had opposition research done against them expect to be asked about their records during a campaign.

He said no one is complaining about that.

“What we’re complaining about is that these outside groups from DC funded by very conservative think-tanks and others are putting money in and then spending in Connecticut and not complying with our statutory scheme for clean elections,” Ritter said.

Expenditures of the money from these groups has to be reported in a 24-hour period.

The complaint says Percipient Strategies has been working on the research dossiers since at least June 6 and Change Connecticut only reported the expenditure on June 29.

The requests targeted state Reps. Michael Winkler of Vernon, Liz Linehan of Cheshire, Phil Young of Stratford and Aresimowicz.

Linehan said the group searched through 20 years of police records for her name.

“When we’re talking about dirty money, we’re also talking about dirty politics and that’s just not ok,” Linehan said.

Aresimowicz said the town of Berlin received requests on June 19 and June 20 for voter records and records related to his time as a town councilor.

“I understand that it can be asked,” Aresimowicz said of the request for information. “But who is asking?”

He said they tracked it back to a firm with staffers who worked for both Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Change Connecticut, which is being run by William Phillips of Milford, has received $400,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington D.C.-based 527 group that receives money from thousands of large corporations like Wal-Mart and the Koch Brothers Inc.

According to past records, the top five donors to the Republican State Leadership Committee in 2016 were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Reynolds American, Las Vegas Sands, Altria Group, and Amway/Alticor. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce a business lobby aligned with Republicans donated $5.4 million to the group. Koch Industries and Wal-Mart Stores also contributed about $400,000 that year to the group.

“We want these outside, DC political interests to stay out of Connecticut elections,” Aresimowicz said.

But Citizens United makes that an impossible task.

The only thing Connecticut can do is require more reporting of expenditures made by these groups and increase the penalty for those who don’t comply.

Legislation that would have made the changes House Democrats want to see died on the House calendar in 2017 and 2018.

Aresimowicz blamed Republicans for being unable to take up the legislation even though Democrats still hold the majority in the chamber.

“Their candidates are benefitting without them being listed,” Aresimowicz said.

Democrats also benefit from independent expenditure groups.

In 2016, Labor United for Connecticut, an independent expenditure group funded by SEIU District 1199, spent about $100,000 in attack ads targeting Republicans.

This is not the first time Democrats have complained about an independent expenditure group.

Two years ago, Grow Connecticut, which was run by Liz Kurantowicz, received $350,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee to target House and Senate races. The group targeted 3 Senate races, and 10 House races.

In 2016, independent expenditure groups spent more than $1.4 million on more than a dozen General Assembly seats.

The election resulted in Republicans picking up 8 seats in the House and drawing even with Democrats in the Senate.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Majority Leader Matt Ritter talk about election complaint against Change CT, an independent expenditure group.

Posted by Christine Stuart on Wednesday, August 1, 2018