Ad against Malloy by state Senate hopeful prompts complaint

A complaint was filed Thursday with the state Elections Enforcement Commission against 19th state Senate District Republican candidate Steven Everett, saying he violated laws governing the use of publicly financed campaign funds by printing a flier critical of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as well as his own opponent, Democratic state Sen. Cathy Osten.

Shiela Hayes, a member of the Norwich Democratic Town Committee, filed the complaint citing an advisory opinion issued Oct. 17 by the state Elections Enforcement Commission in response to "requests for clarification" regarding use of Citizens' Election Program funds in communications that either promote or disparage "other candidates who are not their direct opponents."

A recent two-sided campaign flier mailed by Everett called Osten and Malloy "two peas in a pod," adding "But these peas are dangerous - just like their policies." The ad listed four votes or promises Osten made in the Senate and said "Connecticut can't afford what Dan Malloy and Cathy Osten are cooking."

The commission's Oct. 17 advisory opinion referred to a similar ruling in May of 2011 that said a candidate could not use public campaign funds to publish "joint communications" promoting a candidate in a different race. Now, the commission clarified that the rule also applies to using funds to disparage a candidate in another race.

Everett said Friday he was unaware of the complaint. He defended the content of the ad, saying all the citations were factual with references to specific newspaper articles on the state budget and jobs. He said the comment that the two candidates are "dangerous" can be considered opinion.

Everett said he was unaware of the Oct. 17 commission advisory opinion and would consult with his campaign manager and treasurer on the issue. Everett said the ad was in production prior to Oct. 17, but he could not say when it was mailed to district voters.

Everett and Osten each are receiving $94,690 in the Citizens' Election Program this fall.

In her complaint, Hayes cited a passage in the advisory opinion that appeared to directly address Everett's campaign flier:

"For example," the opinion said, "if participating state senate candidate Jones ran an ad disparaging participating gubernatorial candidate Smith, it would generally not be considered a permissible expenditure by Jones' candidate committee," the opinion said. "? It would be permissible if it were paid for jointly with a committee that could legally support candidate Smith's opponent or oppose candidate Smith."

The flier's only mention of Everett is the small print: "Paid for by Everett for Senate, William Jenkins, Treasurer. Approved by Steven Everett."

Hayes said Friday that she is not working or volunteering for any specific campaign, except for making calls on behalf of Democratic candidates as a member of the Norwich Democratic Town Committee.

"This is the first mailer where the candidate's name doesn't appear at all, except at the bottom," Hayes said. "This is a different type of mailer. That's what made me question it. I've been following the CEP to see what you can and can't do. I examined it. This isn't coming from a (political action committee) or an outside entity."

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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