Judge rejects effort to block public funding for Lembo

A Superior Court judge Tuesday rejected Michael Jarjura’s effort to block Kevin Lembo from using public financing in their Democratic contest for state comptroller.

The terse order by Judge James T. Graham frees Lembo to begin spending the $375,000 awarded to him last week for his Aug. 10 primary with Jarjura, the mayor of Waterbury.

“Does the timing complicate? Of, course it does,” Lembo said. “We’re two weeks out from the primary at this point, but I’m convinced that we’ll be able to mount the campaign that we had planned.”

Jarjura, who also has received $375,000 in public financing, said he will not appeal.

lembo, kevin, 7-27-10

Kevin Lembo reacts to the court order (Mark Pazniokas)

“I’ve taken this as far as I’m going to take it,” Jarjura said. “I feel good that we tried to right a wrong.”

Jarjura filed suit last week, claiming that elections officials improperly approved public financing for Lembo, the endorsed Democratic candidate.

When Jarjura’s campaign challenged some of Lembo’s qualifying contributions, the State Elections Enforcement Commission allowed him to raise additional funds after the July 16 application deadline.

“The deadline is not discretionary, your honor, it’s mandatory,” said Howard K. Levine, Jarjura’s attorney

To qualify for public financing, Lembo had to raise $75,000 in donations of no more than $100.

Robert W.  Clark, an assistant attorney general, told the judge that the commission was acting within its discretion.

Nothing in the law bars the commission from giving Lembo more time, rather than resolve Jarjura’s last-minute challenge of some of Lembo’s qualifying contributions, he said.

“The statute is silent on the issue,” Clark said.

The judge seemed skeptical in questioning Levine, who argued that Jarjura would be unfairly disadvantaged if Lembo was granted public financing.

Graham noted that the legislature created the Citizens’ Election Program to level the playing field for candidates without access to significant campaign funds.

“How does granting an injunction here level the playing field?” he asked.

The burden was on Jarjura to show the commission clearly acted outside its authority and that he would be irreparably harmed if Lembo was allowed to spend the money.

Lawyers for the state and Lembo argued that Lembo clearly would suffer the greater harm by being stripped of all funding two weeks before the primary.

Daniel E. Livingston, a lawyer for Lembo, told the judge that an injunction would “effectively decide an election” in Jarjura’s favor.

“It would have been extraordinary” to win the injunction, Jarjura said. “The judge was between a rock and a hard place.”

The legal challenge is the second of two attempts by Jarjura to deny public financing to Lembo, the state’s health-care advocate and a former policy adviser to Comptroller Nancy Wyman.


Michael Jarjura outside Superior Court. (Mark Pazniokas)

Jarjura first filed a complaint demanding that the commission disallow some qualifying contributions Lembo raised through an exploratory committee.

He claimed that Lembo actually had become a de facto candidate for lieutenant governor while he was raising money as an exploratory candidate. If so, no funds could be transferred to another race.

Using discretion it says the law allows, the commission advised Lembo to raise additional qualifying funds to render moot the status of the exploratory funds. He continued raising money for three days.

Jarjura then sued in Superior Court, saying that the commission had no authority to give Lembo the time to raise the additional funds.

“Deadlines are deadlines,” Jarjura said Monday evening.

The case is the third filed this year with the potential to settle a nomination for statewide office. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz had to abandon a run for attorney general after the Supreme Court concluded she did not have the requisite legal experience.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley unsuccessfully tried to block a rival, Michael C. Fedele, from obtaining public financing.

After exploring a run for lieutenant governor, Lembo declared his candidacy for comptroller after Wyman accepted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy’s invitation to be his running mate.

Jarjura, who explored a run for governor and lieutenant governor, finally declared as a candidate for comptroller. He qualified for primary by winning more than 15 percent of the delegate vote at the nominating convention.

Knowing that Democratic primary voters tend to be liberal, Lembo’s campaign was quick to highlight Jarjura’s political liabilities in June.

He is a cultural conservative who opposes abortion rights and is an adviser to the Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes gay marriage. He also backed the hiring of John Rowland, the disgraced former Republican governor, in an economic development job partly funded with city money.

“I think they started it off,” Jarjura said. “Every campaign will tell you, ‘No, they did it.’ It was bizarre, to say the least.”

Over the weekend, Jarjura sent a mailer to registered Democrats, accusing Lembo of being a secret conservative who has misrepresented his resume and his work running the Office of Healthcare Advocate. The mailer directed Democrats to a web site created by Jarjura’s campaign, lembolies.com.

“Some of my opponents’ claims are just bizarre.  But let me be clear – I have never ever lied to the people of Connecticut or distorted my record,” Lembo said.

One of the claims was that Lembo, a protege of Wyman and the first openly gay candidate to qualify for a statewide primary, was a closet conservative, because he once worked in New York in the office of Betsy McCaughey, a Republican lieutenant governor who later became a Democrat.

“I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with every policy position Betsy takes,” Lembo said in a written statement. “But for the record, she is probably less conservative than the Mayor of Waterbury; she actually supports a woman’s right to choose.”

Jarjura also suggested in the mailer and on lembolies.com that Lembo, who frequently clashes with health insurers, actually was beholden to the insurance industry.

“Lembo forgot to tell us that his “Health Care Advocate” salary is paid for by the insurance industry,” the web site says.

That is true, but the funding is hardly voluntary or evidence of a cozy relationship with the industry. The state funds the Office of Healthcare Advocate by imposing a special tax on insurers, just as it pays for banking regulators by assessing the banking industry.