McKinney says Democrats took $10,000 from contractor in ‘pay to play’

On a day when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the only standard for Democratic Party’s fundraising should be the law, a Republican gubernatorial candidate accused Democrats of breaking campaign finance rules by accepting a $10,000 contribution from Edward Snider, the chief executive officer of Comcast-Spectacor, whose subsidiary manages the XL Center and Rentschler Field.

A law passed in 2005 bars a political party’s state account from accepting contributions from a state contractor, and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, said late Tuesday afternoon that Comcast-Spectacor’s relationship with the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority, which oversees the two facilities, qualifies Snider and Comcast-Spectacor as state contractors.

UPDATE: Democrats return Snider’s contribution

Snider, who also owns the Philadelphia Flyers, was one of nine donors who contributed the maximum $10,000 to the party’s state account since the General Assembly doubled the maximum contribution to $10,000 earlier this year. The party’s federal account received 39 contribution of $10,000.

Snider wrote his check Aug. 27, six months after Comcast-Spectacor’s subsidiary, Global Spectrum, was chosen to manage the XL Center in Hartford and Rentschler Field in East Hartford. State law places the burden on donors to disclose whether they are contractors, and Snider is listed on the Democrats’ campaign finance filing as checking off a box declaring he is not a contractor.

The Comcast Political Action Committee also contributed $5,000 to the party’s federal account: $2,000 in January and $3,000 in October. Snider and Comcast are only part of a Philadelphia contingent that has been generous to Connecticut Democrats in 2013.

The political action committee of Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia law and public affairs firm, contributed $10,000 to Connecticut Democrats in October. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Cozen O’Connor did lobbying work for a group that tried to establish a Foxwoods Casino in Philadelpia. Its main backers were charitable trusts for the families of Snider and Lewis Katz, who contributed $10,000 to the Connecticut party’s state account in September.

Edward G. Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a friend of Snider and Katz, contributed $1,000.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, declined to say whether the party was taking the position that Comcast-Spectacor was not a state contractor, nor would he answer questions about the extent to which the party vets major donors to see if they properly disclosed state contracts.

He slapped back at McKinney, who is a candidate for governor, noting that the GOP Senate leader spoke at the Republican Party’s annual Prescott Bush Dinner, where the donors included state contractors.

“John McKinney is a hypocrite. He was a featured speaker at an event recently for which money was raised from state contractors. It’s perfectly legal, but who’s he kidding? He’s criticizing Democrats for doing the same thing he does. Give me a break,” Hallinan said. But he conceded, “We’re looking into the contribution in question.”

McKinney, who has generally been unavailable to reporters recently, did not return a call for comment Tuesday night. He made his accusation about Snider in an emailed statement.

“Mr. Snider doesn’t live in Connecticut and has never given to the Connecticut Democratic Party before,” McKinney said. “But, all of the sudden, at the same time his company is bidding for a multi-million dollar state contract, he decides to write a check for the maximum contribution of $10,000 and, lo and behold, is awarded the contract to manage the XL Center and Rentschler Field by the governor’s hand-picked head of the Capitol Region Development Authority.”

McKinney’s statement was issued after the CT Post posted a story questioning the legality of Snider’s contribution. McKinney’s chronology was slightly off: The check was written six months months after the public authority chose Global Spectrum to manage the two facilities, not as it was competing. Global Spectrum was chosen in February and officiallly took control of XL and Rentschler in July.

But the issue of fundraising will be a continuing one as Malloy, who was elected as a publicly financed candidate who accepted maximum donations of $100, raises money for the state party, which can make unlimited independent expenditures on behalf of Malloy and other state candidates next year.

The question about Snider’s contribution came hours after Malloy defended his party’s aggressive fundraising, including its acceptance of contributions from donors who do business with the state. State contractors can legally give to the party’s federal account, which covers staff salaries and most operational expenses.

The nature and timing of some of those contributions can create an impression of pay to play, the idea that it is wise to pay political contributions if one is doing business with the state.

Malloy expressed no concern about the perception of pay to play when asked about a real estate project manager who gave the party $10,000 in September a day before the State Bond Commission approved $31 million in financing for his project in Bridgeport.

“The standard to apply is whether we’re compliant with the law, and we’ll hold ourselves to that standard,” Malloy said.

Isn’t the law the minimum standard?

“No, it’s the legal standard,” he replied.

In an analysis of Democratic fundraising published last month, The Mirror found that at least 30 percent of individual donors to the state party did business with the state as state contractors, recipients of state economic-development assistance, employees of regulated industries or lobbyists.

Mark Summers of Sarasota, Fla., the project manager of Bridgeport Landing, a waterfront real-estate development in Bridgeport, gave $10,000 on Sept. 26, a day before the State Bond Commission approved $31 million in financing for Summers’ anchor tenant, Bass Pro Shops. A principal in the project, Robert Christoph Sr. of Miami Beach, gave $1,000 a week earlier.

Adam Winstanley and Carter Winstanley of Concord, Mass., each gave $10,000 in August. They are principals in Winstanley Enterprises, the developer of Downtown Crossing in New Haven, whose anchor tenant, Alexion, was attracted to the project last year by a $51 million state aid package announced by Malloy.

Malloy made his comments after addressing the annual breakfast of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, which was sponsored by Northeast Utilities and its subsidiaries, Connecticut Light & Power and Yankee Gas, whose executives have contributed $55,000 to the state Democratic Party. Malloy was introduced at the event by Rodney Powell, the president and chief operating officer of NU’s natural gas business.

NU executives this year are the Democrats’ single biggest source of individual contributions.

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