HARTFORD, CT — It took nearly two years, but state election regulators found that it was improper for a state Senate candidate to use Republican President Donald Trump in a mailing.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission decided last week that the more than $10,000 Norm Needleman’s state senate campaign spent on a mailer tying Sen. Art Linares to Trump “did not represent permissible expenditures for a qualified candidate committee using funds receive from the Citizens’ Election Fund.”

One side of the double-sided mailer featured a photograph of Linares wearing a “Trump-Pence” campaign sticker and stating that Linares “Hide[s] endorsements you don’t want to admit having.” The opposite side stated that Linares “plays an active part in the Trump campaign.”

The mailer also quoted the The Day newspaper of October 4, 2016 as saying, “The most ludicrous endorsement I’ve heard for Trump this season came from state Sen. Art Linares.” The mailer did not show a picture of Trump or use his full name.

The SEEC didn’t impose a fine because 2016 was the first election cycle where CEP candidates could have made an expenditure involving a presidential candidate. A dozen Republican candidates were faulted by the SEEC in 2014 for using Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in mailers without Republican Tom Foley or the Republican Party chipping in to pay for it.

Needleman, the Democratic First Selectman of Essex, is running again this year for the same Senate seat, but he’s not using the CEP and his opponent is Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam—  not Linares who lost the Republican nomination for state treasurer.

Ironically, Needleman can say whatever he wants about Trump this year in his mailings because Trump isn’t on the 2018 ballot.

In 2014, several Republican candidates for state representative and state Senate seats were scolded by election regulators for using Malloy’s image in their mailings. Malloy was up for re-election that year and the candidates did not ask his opponent or the Republican Party to pay for the part of the mailings.

Sen. Joe Markley, who is now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and Rep. Rob Sampson, refused to sign the settlement agreement that essentially says they violated a State Elections Enforcement Commission opinion because they mentioned another candidate’s name in their campaign material.

The SEEC fined Markley $2,000 and Sampson $5,000 for failing to get Malloy’s opponent or their party to help pay for mailers attacking Malloy.

Markley and Sampson have consistently refused to settle because they disagree with the advisory opinion and believe free speech should prevail even when they’re receiving public funds for their campaigns.

“The implication,” said Markley, “is that the inclusion of the unpopular Governor in a communication cannot be directly related to the election of a legislative candidate. That flies in the face of decades of established political strategy.”

The two were fined by the SEEC and ended up taking the SEEC to court recently.

However, the judge dismissed Markley and Sampson’s appeal because he found it was not filed within the appropriate time limit. Markley and Sampson have yet to pay the fines and are participating in the CEP again this year.

Republican Party Chairman JR Romano who filed the complaint against Needleman said the legal precedent is now clear and the Democratic Party should be on notice. He said when Trump runs for re-election in 2020 they won’t be able to use him as part of their campaign.