Montville Republican Town Committee chairman files complaint against Democratic Town Committee
Montville -- Republican Town Committee Chairman Thomas McNally has filed a complaint against the Democratic Town Committee, alleging that the group improperly used its campaign headquarters in 2020.
Democrats say that the complaint is nonsense, a desperate attempt at political trickery in the waning moments of the current campaign season.
On Wednesday, state Elections Enforcement Commission spokesman Joshua Foley confirmed that the complaint had been filed in March and is still being investigated. The commission provided a copy of the complaint to The Day.
“We do have a complaint, it is pending, which means it’s still an open investigation,” Foley said. “It’s filed by Mr. McNally versus Shanahan, and it was brought before our commission for the first time in March of this year. That’s when the investigation was opened. It’s still open and pending. Beyond that I can’t really comment.”
Tim Shanahan is the Democratic Town Committee treasurer.
The town committee’s headquarters are rented out by the committee during election seasons. At the moment, the committee's headquarters are in a building on the corner of routes 32 and 163 that is owned by a New York company.
“This headquarters was used during the past state and federal election cycle. This headquarters was identified by two banners hanging over the storefront windows,” McNally wrote. “Upon review of the Montville Democratic Town Committee January 10th, 2021 filing, it does not reflect any expenditure to cover the cost of the store front space nor does it include any expenditure to cover the cost of electricity.”
McNally’s complaint was apparently sparked by a Facebook comment from a Democatic Town Committee member saying the committee pays for the space and for electricity.
“It is unknown what the commercial charge for electrical consumption would be for this time period, however it has been observed and by a committee member’s own admission, the lights were left on every night,” McNally adds in the complaint. “The use of this facility without ever reporting its financial liability on SEEC Form 20 located at the intersection (corner) of Route 32 & Route 163 is a violation of Connecticut General Statutes.”
Tim May, the Montville Democratic Town Committee chairman and Town Council chairman, said that for the most recent election season, from Aug. 4 to Nov. 4, 2020, the committee’s rent was covered by local Democratic campaigns for the state House and Senate, including state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, former Democratic candidate for state representative Baird Welch-Collins, former Democratic candidate for state senator Martha Marx, state Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, and Democratic candidate for state representative Matt Geren.
“We can’t give the candidates money, and they can’t transfer money to us. Each one of those candidates paid one-fifth of the lease. It wouldn’t show up on our filing because we had no money transaction for it,” May said. “They paid for it, and we just helped them out with their campaign. We have a lease with the lease company for $1,500 a month and they paid for it. We couldn’t pay for it because it’s against SEC rules for a town committee. They can’t give us money for a donation, so they have to pay for the use of that space.”
Commission guidelines state that in general party committees “must pay fair market value for its use of facility space.” But a “business entity” or “organization” can “provide use of its facility space to a party committee at a discount or for free,” with caveats. The entity must make “the space available to clubs, civic or community organizations or other groups at a discount or for free,” it must make “the space available on the same terms given to other groups using the space,” and it must make “the space available to any other candidate or committee upon request.”
Foley said that in general “any committee that rents a headquarters' space or in fact conducts almost any commercial activity, has to pay fair market value for what they receive. Businesses may not make any contributions to committees. There are certain exceptions for fundraising activities, but generally the rule is businesses cannot contribute to committees. Discounts for services or products are considered contributions.”
Shanahan said the financial filings filed with the commission do not include payment on the rental property between August and November because the candidates for state office were paying for it. He said receipts of checks from the candidates’ campaigns for the space were also sent to the commission and that he’s been cooperating with the lead investigator on the case.
When the decision was made to have local state campaigns pay for the space, “I was kind of worried that something like this would come up, believe it or not, of not reporting anything,” Shanahan said. “And sure enough it did, so hopefully they accept the truth.”
Shanahan said this type of payment plan isn’t normal practice for the committee. He said he and the committee would await the commission’s decision and he said he wasn’t entirely sure which way they would rule.
McNally said he found the current situation “frustrating” because Republicans were nabbed for a similar violation in 2017. In that case, the commission determined that the committee received an excessive and unreported contribution through the free use of office space as campaign headquarters. The SEEC said at the time that the Republican Town Committee paid no rent for its headquarters at 1031 Route 32 for two months during the 2017 election season. With monthly rent of the property valued at $1,700, the commission said the free headquarters amounted to an in-kind contribution of $3,400 — $1,400 more than the $2,000 maximum an individual can give to a town committee, according to state campaign finance law.
McNally stated that banner on the Democratic headquarters has been up for all of this year and that if there is advertising on a commercial building the committee has to pay rent.
“The same people who filed against us are the same ones doing it now,” he said.
May emphasized that the case against the committee is still an unresolved complaint.
“It’s not fair to us because it can hurt us in an election greatly when they haven’t even made a determination yet,” May said. “We just gave them the evidence, a copy of the lease, which is the same lease we’ve had three elections in a row, $1,500 for two months. It’s not discounted by any means at all, it’s the same. And we had to have insurance. Everybody pays their fair share, it’s the same it’s been every year.”
May added that the Republican Town Committee was retaliating for when town Democrats alerted the elections commission to the improper use of its headquarters.
Day Staff Writer Johana Vazquez contributed to this report.
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