The State Elections Enforcement Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to dismiss a Republican complaint against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Connecticut Democratic Party, finding no evidence that the governor solicited a state contractor for campaign donations on a trip to California last fall.
Investigators interviewed the governor and Jonathan Harris, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, and examined campaign finance and other records in determining that Malloy never solicited the contractor, Lenny Mendonca, nor did Mendonca contribute to or seek contributions for the Democrats.
The GOP’s complaint came amid Malloy’s aggressive fundraising on behalf of the state party, which has used its federal campaign account to raise tens of thousands of dollars from state contractors who are barred by state law from contributing to Malloy or the party’s state account.
Malloy, who does not plan to declare his candidacy until May, has been helping the state party expand its staff and campaign infrastructure, but Republicans and some nonpartisan groups have suggested that using the federal account to accept money from contractors violates at least the spirit of state campaign laws.
At the same time, Malloy has been raising money here and in other states for the Democratic Governors Association, which is expected to make millions of dollars in independent expenditures on Malloy’s behalf this fall, as it did in 2010.
The GOP had hoped that it had caught Malloy violating the law when it heard of his meeting in California with Mendonca, a partner in McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting company that has worked on multimillion-dollar projects for the state. Harris traveled with the governor.
In a comment first reported by The Hartford Courant, a California congressional candidate named David Peterson thanked Mendonca in a Twitter message: “Thank you so much for hosting CT. Gov. Dan Malloy!”
Mendonca did not return calls from Connecticut reporters, but a report released Wednesday by the elections enforcement commission reported that Mendonca denied to elections investigators that he had been solicited by Malloy for either the Connecticut Democrats or the DGA.
Mendonca admitted, however, he granted permission for his name to appear on a printed invitation to a DGA event Malloy attended on his California trip, but he did not otherwise solicit for the event, nor did he contribute. Even if he had, Mendonca would not have been in violation of state campaign laws.
He also told investigators he was at a policy forum attended by Malloy.
Zak Sanders, the GOP spokesman who filed the complaint, had no immediate comment on the dismissal. Neither did a spokesman for the governor.
The action Wednesday by the commission absolves Malloy of wrongdoing, but it does little to resolve continuing questions about the degree to which the state Democratic Party can use money from its federal account in support of Malloy or other state candidates.
The Connecticut Democratic Party’s reliance on a federal account to raise money from state contractors who cannot legally give to state campaigns drew a carefully worded caution in February from state elections regulators.
In an unsolicited advisory opinion, the commission warned that more permissive federal campaign laws do not “create a loophole” allowing prohibited donors to support state campaigns.
The commission’s opinion makes no claim that the party has violated finance rules in spending $1.6 million in federal donations to build a campaign infrastructure designed to turn out voters for Malloy and other state and federal candidates this November.
But it states that no advertising supporting a state candidate can be paid for exclusively by the federal account and warns that the party’s staffing should be structured where possible to segregate activities on behalf of state and federal campaigns.