State GOP chairman files complaint in Bowles/Somers Senate race

Mudslinging continued in the political contest between Democrat Timothy Bowles and Republican Heather Somers in the race for the 18th District state Senate seat Wednesday, with Connecticut's Republican Party chairman alleging a misuse of campaign funds by the Democrat, and Bowles responding that he's entitled to "free speech."

The latest quarrel between the two candidates in the election to fill the seat being vacated by Democrat Andrew Maynard revolves around an oversized flier sent out by Bowles last week that features unflattering photographs of Somers and Donald Trump with language that alleges they both made bad deals, didn't pay their bills, sold their companies and "pocketed millions & taxpayers lost millions."

J.R. Romano, the state Republican chairman, said the campaign material is a violation of state law, citing a 2014 advisory opinion of the State Elections Enforcement Commission instructing and cautioning candidates regarding negative communications that feature candidates other than their opponents or for a different office.

"My opponent and his high-priced Hartford consultants have called this illegal smear campaign 'free speech,' but it is really better described as the kind of repulsive politics-as-usual the voters I talk to every day are so eager to reject," Somers said.

"My understanding is that was an advisory opinion," said Bowles, adding it was Republicans who tied their opponents to Gov. Dannel Malloy in the past. "It was an advisory opinion and (those Republican lawmakers) talked about this as being free speech and we're taking the same position on that."

Romano, the state Republican chairman, disagreed, saying Democrats "continue to willfully violate both the spirit and the letter of the law."

"Tim Bowles is brazenly saying to SEEC, 'You don't matter. Come get me,'" Romano said in a news release. And he took a jab at The Vinci Group, the political consultants that Bowles is paying to run his campaign that is owned by former Democratic state Rep. Geoff Luxenberg.

"Bowles is so desperate to get back to Hartford, he is willing to violate election law to get there," Romano said. "They can't plead ignorance, with one of Connecticut's top Democratic consultants on their payroll. This action was clearly intentional."

Romano's complaint was sent earlier this week and Joshua Foley, a staff attorney for the SEEC, said Wednesday afternoon no complaint has been received related to the Somers/Bowles race.

"If you're going to take this money, you have to follow the rules," Romano said, adding that the flier that is the subject of his complaint "is wildly misleading in regard to Heather Somers' record — none of it is factual."

Bowles continued to link his opponent to the Republican presidential hopeful.

"There is a connection between Donald Trump and Heather Somers and until recently she actively supported him," he said.

Somers offered a different perspective.

"The state senators who have represented our region have always been better than this, regardless of their party," she said of Bowles' campaign. "Andy Maynard, Cathy Cook and Steve Spellman would have never stooped so low as Tim Bowles has in this race."

"I hope to carry on their tradition of fighting for our region and for a better future for struggling Connecticut families, retirees and small businesses. We need to stop the out-of-control, job-crushing agenda of Gov. Malloy and his allies like Mr. Bowles," she said.

And she condemned Bowles for the support he has received from Labor United for Connecticut, a union-based political action group that Somers' campaign said has spent more than $9,000 to date to oppose her candidacy. It is the same group that has attacked William Petit, the only survivor of the horrific 2007 Cheshire home invasion and a Republican candidate for state House of Representatives, tying him to Trump's "attack on women and families."

Even Petit's challenger in the House race has condemned the digital attack ads.

"I am calling on Tim Bowles to immediately disavow this disgusting attack and join the growing, bipartisan list of public figures calling on this special interest group to stop their attacks against Petit and myself," Somers said.

The 18th District comprises Groton, Stonington, North Stonington, Preston, Griswold, Sterling, Plainfield and Voluntown.

a.baldelli@theday.com

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