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State Elections Commission dismisses complaint against Montville Democrats

The Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission has dismissed a complaint against the Montville Democratic Town Committee alleging that the group improperly used its campaign headquarters in 2020.

In fact, the commission wrote in a six-page report, the town DTC didn't use the headquarters during the 2020 election season at all. Republican Town Committee Chairman and Town Councilor-elect Thomas McNally had filed the complaint this year.

Town Democrats, who said in October that the complaint was an attempt at political trickery in the waning moments of the 2021 municipal election campaign season, feel vindicated by the decision.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman and Town Council Chairman Tim May said he's not sure if the late timing of the news hurt Democrats in the local election, "but we did lose a seat" on the Town Council, he noted.

"These complaints should be taken seriously, and they shouldn't be put in without knowing the facts," May said. "(McNally) could've contacted us, but he didn't. He didn't even talk to his own Republican Town Committee, there were members who didn't even know about it."

McNally alleged that the DTC and its treasurer, Tim Shanahan, "failed to pay and report expenditures for a party committee headquarters," according to the commission's findings signed by commission Chairman Stephen Penny on Dec. 1.

But the commission verified what May and Shanahan told The Day in April: that from Aug. 4 to Nov. 4, 2020, the committee's rent was covered by local Democratic campaigns for the state House and Senate, including former Democratic state House candidate Baird Welch-Collins; former Democratic state Senate candidate Martha Marx; state Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville; the Sprague Democratic Town Committee and Democratic state House candidate Matt Geren.

"The Commission finds that these candidates, along with the Sprague Democratic Town Committee ("SDTC"), used 358 (Norwich-New London Turnpike) as campaign headquarters for the 2020 election," the commission decision reads. "The Commission further finds that the committees reported the purpose of these $300.00 expenditures as overhead or with descriptions as 'portion of rent,' 'shared' headquarters, 'office rent' or the like."

McNally's complaint hinged on the continued prominence of Montville Democrats' banners in the headquarters throughout the 2020 campaign season. The commission chalked that up to an honest mistake — the signs were unwittingly left up. But, the commission warned against making such a mistake in the future.

"Further, to the extent the MDTC banners remained on the building at no cost to the party committee, the Commission cautions (Shanahan) and Mr. May that in the future all signs and banners should be removed to avoid the potential of the MDTC receiving a prohibited in-kind contribution from a business entity pursuant to General Statutes § 9-613," the commission's decision reads. "In this instance, the Commission deems this disposition to serve as actual notice to Respondent and Mr. May of the prohibitions against a party committee receiving a prohibited contribution as provided by § 9-613."

"The Commission declines to take further action under these narrow and limited circumstances," it said.

After investigating, the commission said its findings "did not support the conclusion that the MDTC failed to disclose expenditures regarding the lease of office space regarding the November 2, 2020 election in violation of General Statutes § 9-608 occurred, as alleged."

"This matter should therefore be dismissed," the commission decision concludes.

In October, Shanahan said that 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. And sure enough it did, so hopefully they accept the truth."

Shanahan said at the time that 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 wasn't entirely sure which way it would rule. On Tuesday, he said he could see the committee continuing the practice in the future for nonmunicipal election years.

This outcome was different from one Montville Republicans faced in 2017. In that case, the commission determined that the Republican Town 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 said he had not seen the report so he couldn't comment on it specifically but said that the dismissal shows "clearly there is a double standard and the commission is corrupt."

"By their own admission the Democrats ... did not pay for the headquarters," he continued. "Their signage was up for over a year with only three months of rent paid."


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