Election Regulators Experience Backlog As Funding Disappears
Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2014, Election 2016, Election Policy, Legal, Local Politics, State Budget, Transparency, Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison, North Branford
(Updated 7:51 p.m.) When Tom Banisch filed an election complaint against Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr.’s campaign on Oct. 27, 2014, Banisch, then the Madison RTC chairman, expected that the matter would be settled before the 2016 election.
There’s still time, but Bruce Wilson, the Republican who is once again running against Kennedy, isn’t hopeful.
Based on Banisch’s complaint, the State Elections Enforcement Commission opened an investigation into allegations that friends and family of Kennedy contributed to the Democratic Party and in return the party gave Kennedy’s campaign an additional $207,000 to use in its race against Wilson. Kennedy was a clean election candidate and also qualified to receive a $94,690 grants through the Citizens Election Program.
“It is illegal for donors to earmark contributions made to a state central committee for specific candidates, just as it is illegal for the DSCC to make a “quid pro quo” promise to spend earmarked contributions on specific races,” Banisch said in 2014 when he filed the complaint.
Joshua Foley, a spokesman for the SEEC, said he can’t comment on the complaint or say when it will be closed because the investigation is still pending.
Wilson, who is again challenging Kennedy in the 12th Senate District, said “the lack of action after two years shows why new people are needed in Hartford.”
He said voters deserve to know the outcome of that investigation before November.
“Bruce and I may not agree on most issues, but we do agree on this one: in fairness to everyone, these complaints need to be resolved much quicker than they are now,” Kennedy said Wednesday.
And Banisch’s complaint isn’t the only open investigation from 2014.
According to the State Elections Enforcement Commission 59 investigations remain open from the 2014 election cycle.
That year there were 207 complaints filed and 148 of them have been resolved, giving election regulators, who had their hands full during a statewide election cycle, a 71.5 percent closure rate.
In 2015, there were 193 complaints filed and the SEEC was able to close 118, but there are still 75 open cases. In 2016, it has received 63 complaints and it has closed 18 of them, leaving 49 open investigations.
The SEEC, much to the dismay of some, recently settled the Republican Party’s 2014 complaint against the Democratic Party and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s campaign for $325,000. The money will be paid in 27 installments to the state’s general fund under the agreement. It won’t go to the agency to help with enforcement.
Michael Brandi, executive director of the SEEC, said that they are doing their best to close out investigations but the continued budget cuts are not helping.
“Since 2011, we’ve lost 40 percent of our budgeted staff,” Brandi said. “We currently have an unfilled legal investigator position and zero clerical support staff. Unfortunately, it’s going to have an effect. However, we’ll continue to do the best we can with the resources we have.”
Rep. Ed Jutila, D-Niantic, who co-chairs the General Administration and Elections Committee that oversees the SEEC, said it’s unfortunate, but there’s little the legislature is going to be able to do to remedy the situation.
Jutila, who isn’t seeking re-election, said he’s concerned that some of these investigations could have an impact on the upcoming election, but there’s nothing that was spared from the budget ax this year.
“We had to cut practically everything,” Jutila said.
And he doesn’t believe it’s going to get better in the future.
“There will be more cuts in the upcoming budget year,” Jutila predicted.
Recently, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes told the SEEC it was withholding $96,000 from its budget.
SEEC’s total budget for operations and expenses, after salaries, is about $103,000.
However, it does have money left in its salary account because one of its investigators retired a few months ago. It currently has two investigators to handle all of its investigations.
“Clearly there are not enough investigators,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Connecticut’s Common Cause chapter, said. “And clearly the agency’s budget has been under attack for some number of years.”
Quickmire said the residents of Connecticut want to know their concerns are being addressed through these investigations, but it’s hard to point fingers at an agency that doesn’t get the resources it needs to fund the work.
Without the resources, these investigations are going to take time and the question for lawmakers will be, are they okay with that? Quickmire said.