The Democratic Governors Association has established its long-anticipated beachhead in Connecticut, hiring elements of President Obama’s re-election team through a week-old independent expenditure group, Connecticut Forward.
IRS records show Connecticut Forward was created as an affiliate of the governors’ association, which spent $1.78 million in 2010 to support the election of Dannel P. Malloy as the state’s first Democratic governor in a generation.
Neither the Democratic association nor its GOP counterpart created a separate Connecticut affiliate four years ago, but the step may be a precaution against potential claims of illegal coordination with Malloy, a major fundraiser for the group.
Danny Kanner, the spokesman for the DGA, said he could not comment on independent expenditures, but the group raised a concern over coordination in its unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of how Connecticut regulates independent campaign expenditures.
Like the DGA, Connecticut Forward is a tax-exempt political advocacy group permitted to make unlimited expenditures in support or opposition to a candidate, so long as those expenditures are not coordinated with a campaign.
With the major-party candidates for governor all participating in the state’s voluntary public financing program, Malloy and the winner of Republican primary will be limited to identical general-election budgets of $6.5 million. Outside groups could be crucial in deciding a race widely seen as a toss up.
In the 2010 race, the Republican Governors Association spent $1.6 million supporting the GOP nominee, Tom Foley, who is competing with Sen. John P. McKinney in the Aug. 12 primary for the right to challenge Malloy again this November.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chairman of the RGA, recently promised the group would be a player in Connecticut again this year as he campaigned with Foley, the GOP convention-endorsed candidate. Under Christie, the RGA is flush with cash, raising $46 million in 2014, compared to the DGA’s $26 million. Foley also has ties to two independent-expenditure groups.
In its first campaign finance disclosure filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Connecticut Forward reported incurring $91,000 in initial expenses for polling and other services from two Washington-based Democratic consulting firms.
One is New Partners, a collection of Obama alumni who offer services ranging from grass-roots organization to strategy and communications. The other is Normington Petts, a polling and campaign strategy firm with a roster of former Democratic clients, including Obama, several governors, the DGA, and the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial campaign committees.
The expenses are what a political committee would make to assess the race and develop a blueprint for the television campaign that is certain to follow.
While it incurred the expenses, it has not yet spent any money and its budget is unclear. It did not disclose the receipt of any funds in its initial filings with the IRS or State Elections Enforcement Commission, which both were made on July 25.
“I think the DGA is trying to sneak around as best they can and not reveal themselves at this point,” said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut. “I don’t think they want to be public. They got a lot of bad press in the lawsuit.”
Quickmire said she was not suggesting that the DGA or Connecticut Forward were in violation of any campaign-finance laws.
In its filing with the state elections commission, nothing ties Connecticut Forward to the Democratic Governors Association. Its address is listed as the Canterbury home of its treasurer, Michael Belmont, a manager at a Hartford home health-care company.
But in its registration with the IRS, the tie to the DGA is clear. The group is identified as a DGA affiliate and its chairman is listed as Oren Shur, the DGA’s director of independent expenditures.
A spokesman for the State Elections Enforcement Commission declined to speculate on why the group created a state affiliate. It is not standard practice for the DGA, although it is not unprecedented.
In April, the association created Maine Forward.
Belmont, the treasurer of Connecticut Forward, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the source of $91,000.