Blumenthal says Bysiewicz misused state database

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal concluded Thursday that Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz – who spent much of last year-and-a-half exploring a bid for governor and then campaigning for attorney general – misused public resources in maintaining an office database compiled on thousands of contacts.

“While much of the information placed in the database was related to legitimate state purposes, some of the information maintained … was inappropriate, even if not demonstrably a violation of law, for a database subject to public disclosure,” Blumenthal wrote in a report released on his Internet site.

Blumenthal did not conclude that any laws had been broken. But he also noted that insufficient data regarding who entered certain information into the database hindered his ability to determine whether one statute had been violated or not.

A larger problem, the attorney general said, is centered on the vagueness of existing state law when it comes to political activity on state time or otherwise involving state resources.

Current law clearly prohibits employees in “classified service” – a term that refers to workers hired through the civil services process for nonpartisan jobs – from using state time or resources for political activities.

But the chief state’s attorney’s office determined previously that the statute does not apply to “unclassified” or partisan employees, such as the chiefs of staff to the various constitutional officers and legislative caucuses.

“This gap is particularly problematic because information that serves a state purpose could also serve the purposes of a political campaign,” Blumenthal wrote.

“If a classified state employee (in the secretary of the state’s office) participated in the upload of campaign records, the provisions … could well have been violated,” Blumenthal added.

The attorney general urged the General Assembly to revise the law to clearly prohibit all employees from using state time or equipment for political purposes. “Without such statutory reform, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prevent unclassified state employees from using the machinery of government to greatly benefit political campaigns for elective office,” he wrote.

That was the nature of the allegations raised against Bysiewicz: specifically, that contact records for more than 35,000 individuals maintained by the secretary of the state’s office – at a cost of approximately $35,300 – was a political election device masquerading as a tool to assist her office.

The database includes “special notes” tied to thousands of entries. Those notes covered a wide range of topics, including descriptions of various contacts’ medical issues and listings of their preferred choices of clothing and favorite political candidates. The secretary’s office has since removed some of these references, and Blumenthal recommended that the office review all of them to determine whether they are proper for a public database.

The database included 5,400 records under a column heading “holiday cards.” And though office employees testified during Blumenthal’s investigation that it was a record of all individuals who sent holiday cards to the office, Bysiewicz’s political exploratory committee requested and received access to that database in February 2009. Ten months later, the committee sent out 11,850 holiday cards, the attorney general noted.

Check marks were found next to contacts who served as political convention delegates and nearly all shared Bysiewicz’s Democratic affiliation. Bysiewicz testified her office routinely asks all parties to provide delegate lists and Republican leaders generally have failed to comply.

“The office of the secretary of the state’s efforts to obtain the list of Republican Party delegates appear to have been indirect and minimal,” the report states.

The database also grouped contacts by race, ethnicity and religious affiliation. Bysiewicz’s office testified these headings were maintained to identify individuals connected to voter registration drives aimed at minorities.

“The question is whether these column headings are appropriate in this type of state database,” Blumenthal wrote. “Clearly, they are not.”

Bysiewicz was not available for an interview but issued a written statement through a spokesman.

“We have reviewed the attorney general’s report and we are pleased with its two most fundamental findings: first, the database we use is a very valuable tool for state employees in providing constituent service and in managing the many Constitutional and statutory functions of this office; and second, no law was broken. We are implementing all of the recommendations contained in the report.”

The attorney general did note that the database enabled the secretary’s office “to manage and track individual constituent inquiries and responses, to provide information, training and support to local election officials” and to communicate with advocacy groups and other organizations about office business.

Bysiewicz had spent much of 2009 exploring a gubernatorial bid, but switched gears early this year and announced her bid to become attorney general after Blumenthal declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

But the secretary’s bid to become attorney general was dashed in mid-May when the state Supreme Court ruled she doesn’t meet the legal requirements to serve in that office.

The decision came down just three days before the Democratic State Convention. Bysiewicz, who has been Connecticut’s chief elections official since January 1999, opted against a last-minute bid to win her party’s endorsement for secretary of the state, and will be off the ballot this November.

The co-chairmen of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee said Thursday said they have tried multiple times to ban political work from being done on state time and using state equipment, and would try again in 2011.

“I’m not sure why it hasn’t passed by now. This seems like a common-sense law,” said Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford. “We’ll continue to bring this forward. State time and equipment should be used for state business. You should be doing political work on your own time and equipment.”

Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, said a clarifying bill has been voted out of his committee multiple times throughout the years, but he cannot remember it ever being taken up in either the House or Senate for a vote.

“It hasn’t been able to get the support or the attention it needs,” he said. Given Blumenthal’s report, he said, “Yeah, this might change things.”

Blumenthal referred the report to Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, urging him to support a change in the law. Kane said late Thursday afternoon that he hadn’t read Blumenthal’s report yet, but would review the matter and report back.