New leader, but same result: CT GOP trails in fundraising

Money illustrationThe Connecticut Republican Party struggled to compete financially during J.R. Romano’s first six months as state chairman, collecting about 29 cents for every dollar contributed to the state Democratic Party, according to reports filed over the weekend.

Democrats, who control the General Assembly and hold every statewide and congressional office in the state, raised more than $700,000 in their state and federal accounts from July 1 to the end of 2015. The GOP collected less than $200,000 over the same period.

“A part of it is you don’t have that top office. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Romano said, noting that governors generally are the best rainmakers for state parties. Of his donors, he said, “These are people who believe in taking this state back.”

Both parties ended 2015 in the black: Democrats had $93,532 in cash on hand, while Republicans had $67,483. But the Democrats under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have developed a deeper roster of donors who can quickly refill party coffers, including many who do business with the state.

A case in point: On Dec. 22, three officials of Winstanley Enterprises of Concord, Mass., the developer of a New Haven mixed-use project benefitting from state aid, each wrote $10,000 checks to the Democrats’ federal account, the maximum any donor can give in a calendar year.

“When you have Dan Malloy shaking down every company and major state contractor, it’s not just how much, it’s from whom,” said Romano, whose party has made an issue of state contractor contributions to Democrats. “When Democrats rail against corporations and business, but raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from them, it’s hypocritical.”

How the Democrats came to solicit donations from state contractors and regulated industries to build a party infrastructure to support Malloy’s re-election in 2014 is an element of a State Elections Enforcement Commission investigation into whether Democrats illegally assisted Malloy with money from banned donors. A judge is weighing whether to order the Democratic Party to honor an investigative subpoena.

The party’s lawyer, David S. Golub, told a judge in December that the commission has no right to the names of people who solicited campaign funds or the strategy for approaching donors, who gave more than $7 million to the Democrats’ federal and state accounts in the two years before the 2014 election.

Malloy declined to comment in detail Monday on his fundraising for the Democrats, other than to say it is no different than the role played by Republican counterparts. “I played the same role Jodi Rell played in the party when she was governor. He didn’t complain about the role she played,” Malloy said.

Rell, who became governor after a bid-rigging scandal forced the resignation of Gov. John G. Rowland, won passage of a law barring state contractors from contributing to state campaigns and kept her distance from fundraising involving contractors.

State contractors have continued to legally give to the Democratic Party’s federal account, which is regulated by federal law and not covered by the state ban. Federal election law requires that all get-out-the-vote efforts in congressional election years, which coincide with every race for state office, be paid through the federal account.

The majority of each party’s expenditures are paid through the federal accounts. In 2015 Democrats spent more than $1.3 million through their federal account and $238,000 through the state account. Republicans spent $496,000 through their federal account and $106,000 through their state account in 2015.

Fundraising was more intense when Democrats geared up for Malloy’s re-election campaign in 2014. In the two years before the 2014 election, Democrats raised $5.3 million through their federal account. The GOP raised $1.2 million.

Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the party, said Democrats are “proud and grateful” for their financial support.

“Our supporters contribute to building a state-of-the-art, grassroots organization that works for and with our great candidates and elected officials,” Appleby said. “Rather than questioning our supporters’ commitment to strengthening our party and our states, we would encourage Chairman Romano to focus on using his voice to lead the Republican Party and build an organization that supporters can rally behind.”

He also tweaked the GOP for filing finance reports every six months with the Federal Election Commission in 2015, not monthly, as did Connecticut Democrats and most other state parties. The monthly reports provide greater transparency, he said.

The FEC allows six-month reports in years in which the party engaged in no federal election activity.

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