The Connecticut Democratic Party is returning a $10,000 contribution from Edward Snider, the chairman of Comcast Spectacor, whose subsidiaries include Global Spectrum, a company that won a contract earlier this year to manage the state-owned XL Center and Rentschler Field.
The decision Wednesday comes a day after Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, a candidate for governor, said Global Spectrum’s relationship to Comcast-Spectacor meant that Snider fell under a prohibition on state contractors making political contributions to state accounts held by a political party.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the party, said Snider signed a form asserting he was not a state contractor and listed his employer as Spectacor. Neither Spectacor, nor Comcast-Spectacor, showed up on a list of state contractors that the party uses to check whether a contribution can be accepted.
“After learning further financial information regarding Comcast Spectacor’s relationship with Global Spectrum, the Connecticut Democratic Party has decided to issue a refund to Mr. Snider for his contribution,” Hallinan said. “The Connecticut Democratic party acted in good faith and followed all laws, rules and regulations, and will continue to do so.”
McKinney said Democrats have yet to explan how they are targeting potential donors.
“Returning the donation they accepted illegally does little to dispel the perception that there is a ‘pay for play’ system alive and well in the governor’s office and the State Democratic Party,” McKinney said. “More questions need to be answered. Chief among them: who is soliciting these state contractors for campaign donations and how are the solicitations being carried out?”
Prior to the Democrats returning the donation, House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, called on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to postpone action on $1.8 million in bonding for improvements to the XL Center. The Bond Commission is scheduled to vote on the item Friday.
Cafero withdrew his objection after learning of the refund, but he said the governor’s aggressive fundraising for the Democratic Party is creating a perception that entities doing business must pay to play. State contractors are banned from giving to state candidates and the party’s state account, but they are free to write checks to a party’s federal account, which covers most operational expenses.
“When he goes aggressive, he goes aggressive,” Cafero said. “I think what we’re seeing here is a fast and furious fundraising effort. I’m not saying they’re doing anything against the law. I’d say it might be against the spirit of the law.”
Malloy will be limited to maximum contributions of $100 next year if he participates in the state’s voluntary public financing system, as he did in 2010. But he is free under the law to raise money for the state party, which can accept maximum contributions of $10,000 and make unlimited expenditures on behalf of him and other candidates.
The governor was a strong supporter of public financing in 2010, saying it combatted a perception of money influencing government. He defeated two self-funding millionaires, suggesting they were trying to buy the office.
“He made a big deal of perception,” Cafero said. “He ran on it. If perception was good four years ago, why isn’t it good now?”
Malloy has brushed aside questions about perception, saying he will comply with the law. He and other Democrats say the aggressive fundraising is necessary to build the party into a protective buffer against unlimited independent expendtures now allowed under Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision equating political contributions with free speech.
In a statement issued before Cafero withdrew his objection, Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said the Bond Commission intended to act on the spending for the XL Center as scheduled.
“Larry Cafero’s grandstanding aside, this funding will go toward much needed upgrades and renovations that are intended to make sure the XL Center continues to be an economic driver for the region,” Doba said. “These funds, which are part of a $35 million allocation that was approved by the legislature, are dedicated solely to the center – to the bricks and mortar structure, and nothing else. This is an asset that we need to improve if we are going to revitalize downtown Hartford.”
Snider, who also owns the Philadelphia Flyers, was one of nine donors who contributed the maximum $10,000 to the party’s state account since the General Assembly doubled the maximum contribution to $10,000 earlier this year. Snider could have legally donated to the party’s federal account.
Snider wrote his check Aug. 27, six months after Comcast-Spectacor’s subsidiary, Global Spectrum, was chosen to manage the XL Center in Hartford and Rentschler Field in East Hartford. State law places the burden on donors to disclose whether they are contractors, and Snider is listed on the Democrats’ campaign finance filing as checking off a box declaring he is not a contractor.
The Comcast Political Action Committee also contributed $5,000 to the party’s federal account: $2,000 in January and $3,000 in October.
Hallinan declined to say Tuesday evening whether the party was taking the position that Comcast-Spectacor was not a state contractor, nor would he answer questions about the extent to which the party vets major donors to see if they properly disclosed state contracts.
But in a statement issued Wednesday, Hallinan said the party does check on donors’ eligibility to give.
“The Connecticut Democratic Party relies on the information provided directly by donors on our contribution form. In this instance, we had a fully-completed and signed non-federal contribution form. All boxes on the form were explicitly checked stating that the donor was not a state contractor or state contractor principal,” he said. “Additionally, we cross-reference donor information for non-federal contributions with information listed on [the State Elections Enforcement Commission] SEEC’s Prohibited State Contractors and Prospective State Contractors lists. Spectacor, which Mr. Snider listed as his employer, does not appear on any of the prohibited contributors lists.”