State fines Groton business owner $6,000 over $30 in illegal campaign donations

A Groton business owner who supported former state Rep. John Scott’s 2016 campaign for re-election has been ordered to pay a $6,000 fine for covering $30 worth of donations with his company credit card.

The donations violated state laws, the State Elections Enforcement Commission found.

In a settlement the commission approved this week, Charles Bowe, a Madison resident who owns two Grand Wine & Spirits stores in Groton as well as locations in Mystic, Old Lyme and Waterford, agreed to pay the fine: $1,000 for each of six “impermissible contributions” he made for employees who completed online contribution forms.

State Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, a Madison Republican who counts Bowe among her constituents, said Friday that each of the contributions was for $5 and that a bookkeeper working for Bowe used a company credit card to pay for them.

“It was an honest mistake,” Kokoruda said. “Bowe admitted it, and told the commission he’d work with them to straighten it out. They threatened to fine him $12,000. ... To be penalized like this is astounding, especially when we talk so much in Hartford about second chances ... and helping small businesses.”

Bowe did not return messages left for him at one of his Groton stores.

A commission spokesman declined to comment on the case, referring a reporter to the five-page agreement the commission voted to adopt Wednesday. In it, the commission said it views the $6,000 civil penalty “as a meaningful deterrent” to Bowe and others and “as an illustration of the seriousness with which the Commission takes making contributions in the name of another.”

The agreement cites a 2008 case in which the commission described making such contributions “as one of the most serious violations of campaign finance law because it frustrates the very purpose of disclosure laws.” Such laws are aimed at preventing candidates from “obfuscating the actual source of funding as well as circumventing contribution limits."

State law also prohibits businesses from making contributions to any candidate's campaign.

The commission began investigating contributors to the John Scott 2016 candidate committee after discovering that several contributions had been paid for with the same credit card. An audit of the committee’s funding was conducted in connection with Scott’s application for a Citizens’ Election Fund grant.

“I didn’t know about it (at the time),” Scott said. “We didn’t notice donations had been made on the same card. I’m really surprised at the amount of the fine.”

Scott, a Republican who represented the 40th House District for one term, ran unsuccessfully for re-election in 2016 and ran again this year, losing both times to Democrat Christine Conley.

“As someone who has been a candidate and who might be a candidate again in the future, what really frustrates me is that everyone running for statewide office has to scramble for donations and if people see someone being fined $6,000 over $5 donations, it’s going to make it harder,” Scott said.

The commission’s agreement with Bowe states that he and his employees cooperated with the commission’s investigation.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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