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Elections panel to investigate complaint against Coutu

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published October 24. 2012 2:00PM   Updated October 25. 2012 12:10AM

The state Elections Enforcement Commission Wednesday voted to investigate a complaint that Republican state Senate candidate Christopher Coutu allegedly used funds raised in his abandoned congressional campaign from spring for signs, a website and a Facebook page for his state Senate race and failed to account for the expenses.

The complaint against Coutu was one of nine filed statewide — and the only one filed against Coutu — that were found worthy of investigation, commission spokesman Joshua Foley said.

In the complaint, Columbia resident and Glastonbury attorney Kate Haakonsen said she reviewed Coutu's earlier congressional campaign finance reports, his application for a state grant under the Citizens' Election Program and his state Senate campaign finance reports.

In the complaint, Haakonsen said Coutu paid $2,326.25 to Victorystore.com for campaign signs for his congressional campaign and then modified the signs with stickers to cover the word "Congress" with "Senate." She also alleged that Coutu's congressional campaign spent $250 for a campaign website, christophercoutu.com, and $220 for a Facebook page, both of which were modified for use by his state Senate campaign without reimbursement to the congressional campaign.

Haakonsen wrote in the complaint that Coutu's state election grant should have been reduced by the amounts received from his congressional campaign for the value of the signs and the Internet services.

Coutu said Wednesday that he was aware of the complaint but dismissed the accusations. He said he only modified 60 campaign signs, within the limit allowed by state law, and reported the expenses to the state when he applied for the Citizens' Election Program.

He said he plans to file a complaint against his 19th District Senate opponent, Democratic Sprague First Selectman Cathy Osten to the Elections Enforcement Commission alleging that she is not properly reporting specific expenses for signs, printing costs and campaign materials.

Haakonsen said Wednesday that she was pleased the commission found her complaint to be worthy of investigation but declined to comment further on the complaint. She said she supports Osten but does not work for Osten's campaign in any capacity.

Osten said she and her campaign did not file the complaint against Coutu and confirmed that Haakonsen does not work on her campaign.

Coutu said his complaint against Osten would involve more than $40,000 her campaign paid to consultant Farina Consulting of Manchester for various campaign services and failed to account for the specifics. For example, payments to Farina are referenced as stickers, lawn signs and campaign literature, without saying what companies actually were paid to print the materials.

"I for one am sick and tired of elected officials being reckless with taxpayer dollars, or failing to be open and honest with taxpayers about how they're being used," Coutu said. "Ms. Osten is not being open and honest about how she is spending taxpayer dollars on her campaign."

Osten said Farina has been a political consultant for "a long time" and always provides details to her campaign about the expenses.

"We are not violating any election laws in our reporting," Osten said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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