A University of Connecticut professor has paid $2,000 to settle an elections complaint about his use of UConn grad students to help him prepare a political poll for Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2008, when she was a potential candidate for re-election.

Ken Dautrich improperly relied on the work of two grad students, who were paid by UConn, to prepare questions for a poll, the State Elections Enforcement Commission concluded. Their work amounted to a defrayal of costs that otherwise should have been reported as a contribution.

Steven Seligman, a lawyer representing Dautrich, said his client admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to the $2,000 penalty as the best way to end the case without the cost of litigation.

The commission, which approved the settlement today, found no evidence that Rell or her staff were aware of the involvement by the paid grad students.

The commission only has jurisdiction to investigate violations of election law. The potential misuse of state resources is being reviewed by state auditors and UConn.

The complaint was brought by Jonathan Pelto, a Democratic activist and consultant. Pelto said today that he believes the use of the UConn grad students allowed Dautrich to charge the Rell campaign $6,000 for services that should have cost as much as $20,000.

“It is inconceivable to me that Rell’s campaign didn’t know it was a receiving a $20,000 survey for $6,000,” Pelto said.

Dautrich’s involvement in the poll raised questions, because he also had overseen a $223,406 project the Rell administration contracted with UConn to advise her on the restructuring of state government. That work included interivews with agency heads.

Dautrich also conducted focus groups as an educational exercise for the two graduate students that explored public attitudes toward Rell and the budget.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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