Democrats say Foley’s campaign finances just don’t add up

An elections complaint filed by the Connecticut Democratic Party claims that the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Tom Foley failed to report major expenses in June, such as staff salaries and the cost of producing the commercial that began airing Monday.

Foley’s reports show no expenditures to Doug McAuliffe Creative + Strategic, the Alexandria, Va., firm that produced the commercial, nor do they show any payments for campaign staff for the month of June through the 27th. Foley previously had paid a half-dozen staffers, though he shifted two to the state GOP sometime in June.

At a minimum, the Democrats are suggesting that Foley engaged in creative accounting to cover a cash flow problem before the State Elections Enforcement Commission approved $1.35 million in public financing for his campaign on July 2.

The question is whether Foley’s accounting — and campaigns have significant leeway in continuing to run in the absence of ready cash — cross the line into violations of campaign finance law, such as unreported loans or expenditures?

The Foley campaign offered no explanation about the lack of reported expenditures for the commercial, for its staff — or even for the services of Chris Cooper, the consultant who regularly fields media questions, such as the ones posed by the Democratic complaint.

The campaign paid Cooper $5,317 from April 1 to May 28, but nothing in the month that followed, according to Foley’s reports. During that time, Cooper acted as the sole spokesman for the campaign.

In a statement emailed by Cooper, the Foley campaign did not address the specifics of the Democratic complaint Monday and instead generally asserted that it is following the rules.

“The Foley campaign has worked closely with the SEEC staff since opening the campaign to assure that we are compliant with the Commission’s rules and regulations.  We are confident we have been and remain compliant with the SEEC rules and regulations,” the statement said.

Compliance has been an issue for Foley. He ran afoul of the SEEC last year over a $15,504 poll he commissioned through an out-of-state, independent political group, Voters for Good Government. At the time, Foley had no campaign committee.

In a settlement reached in October, Foley agreed to reimburse the group for the poll, and Voters for Good Government paid the state $15,504, a sum that the commission’s attorney, described as “a civil penalty.” The commission said the poll was a campaign expense.

The Mirror reported in March that Foley had a relationship with two independent expenditure groups, Voters for Good Government and Citizens for Democracy. A lawyer at Foley’s campaign law firm is the records custodian for both, and his campaign treasurer is the president of Citizens for Democracy.

Last year, Voters for Good Government paid Cooper $17,133 to advise Foley, and Citizens for Democracy paid $43,850 to Foley’s media consultant, Doug McAuliffe. Foley, McAuliffe and a lawyer for Citizens declined to say what McAuliffe did for the group.

The Democrats appear to be off base on at least one aspect of their complaint Monday: a claim that Foley exceeded one in a series of spending limits imposed on candidates participating in the voluntary Citizens’ Election Program, which provides gubernatorial campaigns public financing of $1.35 million for a primary and $6.5 million for a general elections.

The Democrats note that Foley reported spending $259,081 through June 27, close to a $270,000 spending limit for a “pre-primary period.” (The limit is based on what campaigns can spend before obtaining public financing: $250,000 in qualifying contributions, plus $20,000 in personal funds.)

By the Democrats’ calculations, Foley’s expenditures had to stay below $270,00 until the commission approved his application for public financing on July 2. Between June 27 and July 2, they say, Foley had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to produce and book air time for the commercial.

But a 150-page guide published by the commission suggests that the pre-primary period actually ended on May 17, the day of the Republican nominating convention. And in an interview last week, commission spokesman Joshua Foley (no relation to the candidate) said campaigns can incur expenses beyond $270,000 prior to winning public financing.

The effective spending limit at this stage of the campaign is $1.6 million: the sum of the $250,000 in qualifying contributions and the $1.35 million public grant for awarded for a gubernatorial primary, the commission spokesman said.

 Related: A primer on the Citizens’ Election Program

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