The governor as rainmaker for a friendly PAC

As a publicly financed candidate for governor in 2010, Dannel P. Malloy could accept no contributions of more than $100 and was barred from accepting donations from lobbyists or business owners doing business with the state.

But Malloy is free to help raise money from those sources in his roles as finance chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, which can accept unlimited donations, or as the headliner at an upcoming event for a supporter’s political action committee, Prosperity for Connecticut.

Malloy said Monday he sees no inconsistency.


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

“Let’s be very clear. I do and will support political candidates, candidate committees, political action organizations as long as they are progressive in nature,” Malloy said. “I will raise money. I will lend my name to good efforts involved in progressive issues.”

Malloy said he is living by the same standard that governs Republican legislative leaders, who control political action committees in Connecticut, as do Democratic legislative leaders.

“I didn’t stop being a politician simply because I am governor,” Malloy said. “It’s quite clear that part of politics, within any system, is raising money.”

Next month, Malloy is scheduled to headline a fundraiser at the Mohegan Sun for Prosperity for Connecticut, a political action committee founded in July by James A. Wade, a prominent trial attorney who was one of Gov. William A. O’Neill’s close friends and was an early supporter of Malloy.

The fundraiser was first reported by Kevin Rennie, a Hartford Courant columnist and former Republican legislator, in his blog. He asserted that the PAC was Malloy’s, though the only connection to Malloy appears to be his attendance at the fundraiser.

“I don’t have a PAC,” Malloy said.

The registration papers say the purpose of the PAC is to raise money for candidates for statewide office and the General Assembly. Wade, a partner at Robinson & Cole, is the chairman; its treasurer is an associate at the firm, Benjamin C. Jensen. Neither returned calls for comment.

“This is a PAC whose intention is to raise money for progressive causes,” said Malloy, who hosted fundraisers for Democrats in municipal races last year. “I support progressive causes.”

In its first six months, Prosperity raised a relatively modest $16,200 from 32 donors and spent $3,242, with more than half that amount paying a caterer for an initial fundraiser. It has yet to make a contribution.

“There is nothing wrong with raising money as long as you do it right,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “As long as you are open about what you are doing, as long as you are adhering to the law, there is nothing wrong with it.”

There are potential dangers, as other governors can attest. Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, faced criticism last fall when an energy company donated $100,000 to the DGA on the same day O’Malley indicated he would sign legislation sought by the company.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, a proponent of campaign finance reform, hosted a $50,000-a-ticket DGA fundraiser that gave corporate donors access to Cuomo. He was asked if there was any inconsistency.

“I and other governors or elected officials are in rooms with people who do business with the government all day long. It’s this room. It’s every room you walk into,” Cuomo told reporters in New York.

Malloy’s role as finance chairman of the Democratic Governors Association creates potential conflicts if he still is chairman during his expected re-election run in 2014, said Karen Hobert Flynn, a vice president of Common Cause.

During the 2010 gubernatorial race, the DGA and Republican Governors Association each made more than $1.5 million in independent expenditures in Connecticut, either supporting their nominee or attacking his opponent.

As a candidate, Malloy would be barred from coordinating activities with any entity making an independent expenditure.

The DGA and RGA each ran afoul of the State Elections Enforcement Commission over their failure to make adequate disclosures about their financial backers and their expenditures. Each association reached a settlement in June with the SEEC, whose disclosure requirements are more exacting than federal law.

Occhiogrosso said Malloy intends to serve as finance chairman of the DGA for one year, stepping down in late 2013. He is not up for re-election until 2014.

Flynn said Malloy must tread carefully, lest he give the appearance of coordinating activities with either the DGA or Prosperity for Connecticut, which also can make independent expenditures.

“When you go and speak at these fundraisers, people are going to raise questions down the line,” she said. “Those are things the candidates need to be careful of.”

Flynn said on the federal level candidates of both parties give the appearance of coordinating activities with the so-called “super committees” that can accept unlimited donations to finance their independent expenditures. Some of the committees are run by former aides.

In the case of Republican Mitt Romney, she said, he spoke at one fundraiser, though he was careful not to ask for money on behalf of the committee.

“That makes a mockery of our campaign finance laws, and we want to stay as far away from that as possible,” she said.