Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Republican Party Chairman JR Romano (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Republican Party Chairman JR Romano accused state election regulators of applying a different standard to Republican complaints than it’s applying to ones filed by Democrats.

Romano said Tuesday that the State Elections Enforcement Committee is dragging its feet in deciding two 2016 complaints the party filed against Democratic candidates that year.

“They have some explaining to do,” Romano said. “Don’t tell me you’re backlogged. Looking at a mail piece and applying a standard is not that hard.”

Both complaints (which can be read here and here) accused Democratic candidates for state Senate of using a Republican candidate’s support of President Donald Trump against them in mailings.

Spokesman for the Democratic candidates, both of whom lost in 2016, defended the decision to use Trump, a federal candidate who does not receive funding from the Citizens’ Election Program.

Joshua Foley, a spokesman for the SEEC, said the commission is diligently working to conclude those investigations. He said because they are still open investigations he’s unable to comment further.

In 2014, the SEEC fined and settled with more than a dozen Republican candidates who used Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in mailings. Connecticut’s election laws say you can only talk about another candidate on the ballot if their opponent pitches in and pays for some of the cost of that mailing or advertisement.

In 2014, the 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.”

Romano wants to know the outcome of the 2016 complaints before filing new complaints against Attorney General candidates Rep. William Tong and Chris Mattei for using Trump in their recent campaign ads.

Romano said Trump has filed a candidate committee for 2020 and therefore cannot be used in advertisements this election cycle.

But Trump is not on ballot in 2018 and the use of his image or name doesn’t fall under the 90 day rule that’s laid out in state statute.

State statute prohibits communications about candidates other than the ones doing the communication from being made 90 days before the election, unless those communications are partially paid for by the opponent of the other candidate mentioned. 

Romano said he’d like to see a ruling on the 2016 complaints before filing a new complaint.