A Suffield prison inmate serving an 86-year sentence for sexual assault has been blocked by the state’s top correction official from obtaining names, addresses and other personal information of state Sen. John A. Kissel’s campaign contributors.
Kissel, an Enfield Republican, said Friday that MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution inmate Richard Stevenson’s request was made to protest Kissel having co-sponsored new legislation barring inmates from accessing correction officers’ personal information.
“It’s definitely a signal,” Kissel said in a telephone interview. “I think this inmate is reaching out and saying ‘I’m not happy with this and I’m going to chill your campaign.’”
Stevenson filed a request for Kissel’s campaign finance records with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Under existing law, FOI requests from inmates must be processed through the Department of Correction. That statute gives the correction commissioner the discretion to withhold information that the official has ” reasonable grounds to believe may result in a safety risk, including the risk of harm to any person or the risk of an escape from, or a disorder in, a correctional institution.”
The Correction Department and the Freedom of Information Commission have disagreed in past cases over the interpretation of “reasonable grounds.” The commission has said department must cite specific evidence that an inmate is likely to abuse what is otherwise public information.
Correction Commissioner Brian Murphy withheld the names, street addresses and occupations of Kissel’s campaign contributors Thursday, but did allow Stevenson to learn the donors’ home towns and the amounts they contributed, according to DOC spokesman Brian Garnett
Kissel is pursuing public financing through the state’s Citizens Election Program. That means he must raise $15,000 in small contributions from individual donors in order to qualify for $85,000 in public funds.
Stevenson’s request “could have a chilling effect on my campaign and on my ability to raise funds going forward,” Kissel said, adding that he intends, if re-elected, to introduce legislation next year to make campaign contributor information exempt from disclosure to inmates under all circumstances.
Kissel, who first was elected in the 7th Senate District in a 1993 special election, is being challenged in his latest re-election bid by state Rep. Karen Jarmoc, D-Enfield, who also was a co-sponsor of the new law.