Lobbyists form SuperPAC to help Murphy in Senate race

Washington — Saying Rep. Chris Murphy can’t raise enough money to defeat multimillionaire Republican Linda McMahon in Connecticut’s Senate race, two Hartford-based lobbyists with Democratic ties have formed a SuperPAC to bolster Murphy’s campaign.

The founders of the new committee include Chris VanDeHoef, a lobbyist who is executive director of a media trade group, the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, and Kevin Graff, who became a Hartford lobbyist after stepping down last year as chief of staff of the state Senate Democratic majority.

“There is real concern in Connecticut, that if gone unchecked, Linda McMahon will buy herself a seat in the United States Senate,” said VanDeHoef, the chairman of the PAC.

Tim Murtaugh, the communication director for the McMahon campaign, said he wasn’t surprised by the creation of the PAC. “Chris Murphy is a professional politician, and this is set up so he can scoop money up from special interests,” Murtaugh said.

VanDeHoef and Graff are joined as founders by Jeffrey Garfield, who retired in 2009 as the general counsel and executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, and state Rep. Joseph Taborsak, D-Danbury, who is not seeking re-election.

Garfield said he was approached by the organizers to oversee compliance with election law and the PAC’s policy of voluntarily disclosing the source of all funds.

“They wanted total disclosure about the donors and to be as transparent as possible,” Garfield said.

Garfield said he will not be involved in fundraising.

Primaries on Aug. 14 will determine the Democratic and Republican Senate candidates for the general election — former Rep. Chris Shays, a Republican, and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, a Democrat, are competing for the nominations — but VanDeHoef expects a Murphy-McMahon matchup.

“But we don’t think Chris can raise the money to compete with Linda McMahon,” he said of Murphy.

McMahon has loaned her campaign more than $4 million in this bid for the Senate. In an unsuccessful Senate run two years ago, McMahon spent more than $50 million of her own money.

VanDeHoef hopes to raise more than $1 million to run ads — some of them likely attacking McMahon. Under federal election law, the PAC could not coordinate activities with the Murphy campaign.

The focus of fundraising will be in Connecticut, VanDeHoef said.

VanDeHoef said his role as SuperPAC co-founders poses no conflict for his lobbying client, the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association. He said he is an advocate for the business interests of the state’s 17 daily papers and plays no news role.

VanDeHoef was a fundraiser for Attorney General George Jepsen when he ran for governor in 2002. His online bio says his lobbying practice focuses on Connecticut, but can extend to trying to influence Congress:

“Many clients like to focus specifically on the Connecticut General Assembly; however, some also need help with the logistical issues of Washington DC. Mr. VanDeHoef brings close, personal relationships with Members of the Connecticut Congressional Delegation and their staffs to any client’s Washington DC needs.”

Mirror Staff Writer Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.