Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Same Ole Connecticut Sleaze Fest?

From the Hartford Courant:

POLITICS

Rell Balks At Naming Contributors Says She Has Returned Checks From Controversial Fundraiser

December 23, 2005 By JON LENDER, EDMUND H. MAHONY, And MARK PAZNIOKAS Courant Staff Writers

In a reversal from last week, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's campaign said Thursday that it will not publicly disclose the names of contributors to a controversial Dec. 7
fundraiser that led to the suspension of the governor's chief of staff.

"Those contributions will not be reported because they were not deposited," campaign press secretary Rich Harris said. Accordingly, he said, state election law does not require them to be listed on campaign finance reports.

That was a departure from Rell's position on Dec. 14, the day The Courant disclosed that chief of staff M. Lisa Moody had violated Rell's stated policy by giving invitations to the fundraiser to several of Rell's commissioners in the governor's Capitol office suite on state time. Moody reportedly directed the commissioners to pass out the invitations at their agencies, which might violate state law.

The matter is under investigation by criminal authorities and election officials, and Rell has suspended Moody without pay for two weeks.

When the story broke Dec. 14, Judd Everhart, the governor's spokesman, said that Rell would not order her campaign to release the names of the Dec. 7

contributors, but that the names would be listed on a quarterly campaign financing report to be filed Jan. 7.

Harris said Thursday, however, that Rell's decision Dec. 16 to return all of the contributors' checks, uncashed, relieves her of any legal obligation to list the names or contributions on the report to be filed next month with the secretary of the state's office.

Accordingly, Harris said, the Rell campaign will not make the Dec. 7 contributors' names public. In addition to leaving them off next month's campaign report, the campaign continued its refusal to release the names to the press, or even to say how many people had contributed.Harris explained the switch from last week by saying, "At the time, the decision hadn't yet been taken to return the contributions. That was a reasonable expectation at the time - that if the contributions were deposited, they would be reported."

Harris said that Rell subsequently decided that "the right thing to do was to return the checks."

He said the fact that the names could then be withheld "was certainly not a consideration in any way, shape or form. ... Any suggestion otherwise is offensive."

Harris said that the campaign has turned over the list of Dec. 7 contributors to the office of Chief State's Attorney Christopher L. Morano, who is conducting a criminal investigation, and to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which is investigating whether any non-criminal election laws were broken. Neither agency will release the list, at least while investigations are underway.

Among the issues under scrutiny are possible violations of a state law banning commissioners and deputy commissioners of state agencies from soliciting campaign contributions. Moody gave multiple invitations to some officials to hand out to others, and some of those officials passed them along, sources said. The invitations said that those attending could contribute up to $2,500.

Morano and elections enforcement commission Director Jeffrey B. Garfield have refused to comment on their agencies' investigations.Garfield did say Thursday, however, that it is legal for the Rell campaign to return the checks uncashed within 14 days of receiving them and to refrain from reporting those contributions.

Donors have been getting their contributions back this week by mail, along with a letter of apology from Rell.

"As you know, the event on December 7 has unfortunately become the subject of controversy," the letter says in part.

"I have decided that the best way to proceed is to return the contributions of everyone who attended that event or donated to it."

Rell's refusal to make the names public might amplify criticism from Democrats, who have accused her of stonewalling on a clean-campaigning issue that she claims to champion.Meanwhile on Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Moody wrote a memo to staff members in May outlining Rell's policy prohibiting gubernatorial employees from soliciting contributions from other employees or encouraging them to attend campaign events. That story followed reports in The Courant that those rules had been laid out in an October memo from ethics counsel Rachel Rubin, at a staff meeting involving Rubin and in a conversation that Rubin had with Moody days before she delivered the invitations to commissioners.

Earlier Thursday, Rell reiterated her support for Moody during an appearance on WTIC-AM 1080 at a Salvation Army "holiday store" in Wethersfield.

"I know she never would do anything intentionally to embarrass herself or me," Rell said.

Off the air, Rell told reporters that she has met with Rubin. But Rell deflected most questions, saying that the matter is under investigation."I have spoken with Rachel and legal counsel in the governor's office. Obviously, that is a confidential conversation," Rell said.

"Any investigation now, other than on a breach of a policy which I have addressed in my office, is rightfully before the elections enforcement commission."

Asked if she had tried to determine if any commissioner had solicited campaign contributions in violation of state law, Rell said, "I have been told that the election enforcement commission is interviewing those individuals, and I will wait for their report."

Regarding the returned contributions, she was asked if the donors were free to give the money back to the campaign.

"If they want to, they certainly can. It would be greatly appreciated, but we're certainly not expecting that."

How much money was returned?

"I don't actually have a definite dollar amount, but it was a large amount of money. To me it was a large amount of money."

Fifty thousand?

"Close."

To comment on this story, or to request a correction click here to send a message to Karen Hunter, The Courant's reader representative.

Click here to read Karen's daily Weblog.

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