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State Rep. Mike France named in campaign finance complaint

Multiple organizations have filed a campaign finance complaint against state Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, who is challenging Joe Courtney for his 2nd District U.S. House seat.

Common Cause in Connecticut and Center for Media and Democracy filed the complaint with the state Elections Enforcement Commission alleging that the American Legislative Exchange Council illegally gave, and France illegally received and utilized, campaign software connected to the Republican National Committee.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is a tax-exempt, conservative political organization. As a 501(c)(3) organization, it is barred from participating in political campaigns. The Center for Media and Democracy is a progressive watchdog and advocacy nonprofit group. Common Cause in Connecticut describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit group focused on fostering accountable government.

The complaint states that the conservative group provided free RNC-linked software to France amounting to an “in-kind campaign contribution worth between $2,376 and $3,000” and violated the law “as an entity barred by federal law from engaging in political activity and prohibited from making contributions.”

This software is managed and owned by Virginia-based Voter Gravity. According to the Associated Press, the company is facing accusations that its software only has data related to registered, as well as past, Republican voters, making it a useful tool for Republicans and thereby used as a campaign tool.

France’s campaign denied the claims of the complaint in a statement after The Day asked if France or his campaign received free voter management and campaign software for the 2020 election from the conservative group.

“No, Mr. France’s campaigns have never used nor received voter management and campaign software from ALEC,” the statement reads. “Mr. France’s campaigns have exclusively used voter management campaign software made available by the Connecticut Republican Party.”

The move by Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy is part of a large spate of similar complaints by both organizations, in conjunction with others, filed in 14 states aside from Connecticut against the American Legislative Exchange Council. According to the groups, France is one of more than 2,000 elected officials with access to the software.

“As a benefit of his membership in ALEC, ALEC gave, and Rep. France received, free sophisticated voter management and campaign software for the 2020 election cycle worth thousands of dollars, despite ALEC’s status as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt corporation barred from engaging in electoral activity under federal and law and in violation of Conn. (statutes),” the complaint states.

The complaint asks the Election Enforcement Commission to investigate and see if other state lawmakers linked to ALEC have had free access to the expensive software.

“Connecticut voters deserve to know that our elected officials represent us, and aren’t beholden to special interests. That’s why we have strong campaign finance and disclosure laws,” Common Cause in Connecticut Executive Director Cheri Quickmire said. “Secret campaign assistance is particularly troubling, because it implies a secret relationship between the giver and the politician — and who knows what other secrets follow that?”

The France campaign’s response to the allegations questioned Common Cause’s nonpartisan bonafides.

“If Common Cause Connecticut truly wants to be a ‘nonpartisan citizens’ lobby’ that wants to ‘curb the influence of money in politics’ as their website claims, they would do well to look at the vast sums of money Rep. Joe Courtney receives from corporations and political action committees,” the campaign said in its statement. “The sad fact of the matter is that their claims of being nonpartisan are just a way to deceive the citizens of Connecticut and the IRS nonprofit enforcement division.”

The complaint goes on to make the case that the conservative group is passing off a campaign tool as “constituent communications.” It formally requests the commission to investigate and “impose the appropriate penalties for all violations of law found.”

Alexis Jarrett, a spokesperson for ALEC, pushed back on the complaint in an email to The Day.

“The wild assumptions and frivolous allegations made in the complaint are reckless and made with no real knowledge of the constituent management platform,” Jarett wrote. “Representative France has never had an account, attended a training or had any direct knowledge of the constituent management platform.”

State statute stipulates that the Elections Enforcement Commission must issue a decision on a complaint within a year, otherwise the complaint is automatically dismissed.

According to the Federal Election Commission, as of June 30, Courtney’s campaign had spent more than $108,000 and had more than $766,000 cash on hand, while France’s campaign has spent nearly $26,000 and has almost $89,000 cash on hand.

s.spinella@theday.com

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