State election regulators on Wednesday fined former Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Obsitnik $90,000 over allegations he illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure committee created to help his failed 2018 campaign. Regulators also alleged that he failed to register his candidate committee within 10 days of declaring a run for governor.
State Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, was fined $10,000 over allegations he made a “disallowed” contribution to Obsitnik’s campaign and helped coordinate with the independent expenditure committee, which was called FixCT, Inc.
On Wednesday, the State Elections Enforcement Commission voted to accept staff recommendations for the fine and consent order and stated that by agreeing to pay the fine and settle the investigation neither party was admitting guilt.
SEEC Attorney Ryan Burns said “it’s alleged that the services provided by the communications consulting firm beginning on or about July 16, 2016, were services not promoting the mission of Imagine CT Inc., but rather directly promoting the campaign of Stephen Obsitnik.”
Obsitnik didn’t register his candidate committee until January 2017.
Failure to do so within 10 days of beginning to promote a candidacy is a violation of election law.
FixCT, Inc., the independent expenditure committee in question, made “disallowed contributions” to Obsitnik’s gubernatorial campaign committee. FixCT, Inc. was created by Scott DePetris, a supporter of Obsitnik, who was referred by Obsitnik to an attorney who could help him create the committee, according to SEEC documents.
Independent expenditure groups, which are allowed to exist under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, are not allowed to coordinate with a candidate’s campaign committee. But that’s what the consent orders allege happened.
“During the course of its existence, FixCT Inc. raised and expended $170,000. During the course of its existence, FixCT, Inc., reported that it made $86,622.46 in independent expenditures to benefit Stephen Obsitnik’s candidacy for governor,” the SEEC wrote in its consent order.
As far as Perillo’s involvement, Burns says Perillo was involved in the “design and drafting of every communication published by FixCT, Inc. in support of Stephen Obsitnik.”
Neither Obsitnik or Perillo admitted any wrongdoing under the agreement.
“I didn’t observe a single instance of coordination while I was volunteering with the committee,” Perillo said Wednesday in a phone interview. However, he did the math and it was “cheaper to pay the fine than defend myself.” He estimated a legal defense would cost him about $50,000.
In an email, Obsitnik said he could fight it, but it’s not worth it.
“The claims lack merit. It would take years and millions of dollars, especially for taxpayers,” Obsitnik said. “It just doesn’t make sense to fight. It is just time to move on.”