State threatens legal action for lawmaker's unpaid fine

HARTFORD — The Connecticut attorney general's office is threatening to take a state lawmaker to court for failing to pay a $4,500 fine for election law violations that was levied a decade ago in connection with the 2006 election.

Democratic Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, who has represented part of Hartford for 22 years, was fined by the State Elections Enforcement Commission in 2009 for improperly being present when four voters filled out absentee ballots. She appealed the penalty, but it was upheld in 2013 by the state Appellate Court. The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

"The Office of the Attorney General has recently issued another demand for payment of this fine and is prepared to take legal action if it is not paid," Elizabeth Benton, a spokeswoman for Democratic Attorney General William Tong, said in a statement.

Messages seeking comment were left for Gonzalez, her lawyers and an aide Wednesday.

The Elections Enforcement Commission, meanwhile, is investigating other complaints it received involving Gonzalez's campaign related to last November's election.

One of the complaints alleges volunteers for Gonzalez pressured a voter into filling out an application for an absentee ballot in favor of Gonzalez and mailed it in. Another complaint alleges a polling place volunteer encouraged a resident to vote for Gonzalez in the August Democratic primary against Gannon Long.

During the primary campaign, Long complained to police that she and her campaign volunteers were being followed around the city by a Gonzalez campaign truck that was covered with Gonzalez posters and whose speakers blasted music and ads for her. Gannon accused Gonzalez's campaign of a "pattern" of intimidation. Gonzalez has denied that allegation.

In the case related to the 2006 election, a city resident filed a complaint with the Elections Enforcement Commission saying he saw Gonzalez talking with several people in Spanish as they filled out absentee ballots at City Hall. State law prohibits candidates from being present when people fill out absentee ballots, with a few exceptions.

After a hearing, an official with the commission issued the $4,500 fine for four violations of state law. Gonzalez appealed to Superior Court, and a judge overturned part of the commission official's findings.

Gonzalez appealed to the state Appellate Court, alleging the commission official prejudged her case and the Superior Court judge made a series of mistakes. Gonzalez also claimed there was a lack of substantial evidence against her.

A three-judge panel of the Appellate Court unanimously rejected Gonzalez's appeal and upheld all of the commission official's findings.

Gonzalez's failure to pay the fine six years after her appeal was rejected flouts the law, weakens its deterrence and sends a bad message to other political candidates, said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, a nonpartisan advocacy group for open and accountable government.

"Certainly there needs to be consequences to breaking the law," she said. "If you don't abide by the rules, it weakens the whole system."

 

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