Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill said Tuesday she was ceasing a monthly emailed newsletter whose existence became controversial not for its content, but for the provenance of its address list: Merrill’s personal contacts, including her 2010 campaign.
Merrill defended the concept of the newsletter, saying every public official should communicate regularly with constituents. But she apologized for originating the newsletter in June with a list that could give the impression she was politicking.
“That was never the intent. I am deeply sorry if that was the impression created,” said Merrill, who is expected to run for re-election next year.
Merrill said her office expected that the address list would grow beyond its Democratic origins. But she had to begin somewhere when she decided to circulate a monthly electronic newsletter, so she began with her own contacts, many of whom were drawn from her 2010 campaign, she said.
The first-term Democratic secretary of the state said she was ending the e-newsletter because it now was “tainted.”
Her official website had no means by which someone could sign up for the newsletter, but she said that feature eventually would have been added.
In a column posted Oct. 12 on its website, The Courant reported that 94 percent of the recipients of her newsletter were Democrats, although Merrill said the newsletter also was posted on her Facebook page and a link was sent to her Twitter followers, who numbered 1,363 on Tuesday.
“I notice many of you in the press corps receive these newsletters as followers of mine on Twitter,” Merrill said. “So this was in no way intended to be some sort of exclusive or political list. It was simply a place to start.”
The newspaper reported that “the list of recipients, obtained by the Courant through a public-records request, is densely packed with names of political donors and members of the state’s Democratic establishment — the kind of people a candidate wants to stay in touch with in order to win renomination and to raise campaign funds.”
Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola has asked the state auditors to investigate.
Merrill said she was making a similar request, asking the auditors for guidance about restrictions on newsletters.
“If there is a real problem from a legal or regulatory point of view with how we did our e-newsletter, I want to know what it is,” Merrill said. “That would be helpful not only for me and my staff but for the hundreds of Connecticut officeholders – Democrats and Republicans – who put out similar e-newsletters. Who should be receiving these communications? What lists are OK and which are not?”
The last edition of the newsletter had four photos of Merrill with others, links to forms for absentee ballots and voter-registration forms and two brief articles.
Labriola was unavailable. His spokesman, Zack Sanders, said the GOP had no objections to the content of the newsletter, but the addressees made it suspect as an activity for a state office. He questioned why town clerks and registrars of voters were not on the address list.
“I think our biggest concern was where the email list came from,” he said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said Merrill did the appropriate thing in ceasing the newsletter over the perception it was partisan. He said he accepted her statement that was not her intent.
“I’ve know Denise Merrill for 20 years, and I believe her,” Cafero said. He faulted her, however, for using her photo on a voter registration billboard, which was legal.
Merrill was the House majority leader until her election in 2010.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he would reserve judgment on whether the newsletter was an abuse of state resources.
“I don’t know whether it is or isn’t,” Malloy said.
Below are links to all five newsletters.