August Wolf, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate beset by staff turnover, financial problems and allegations of a hostile work environment, broke a six-day silence Thursday and blamed the three young staffers he put in charge of his campaign for its failings.
In an emailed statement, the 54-year-old Wolf, a businessman and former Olympian, focused on the performance of the three interns he promoted to run his campaign after the departures last year of his first manager, treasurer and finance director.
Wolf said he failed to file an end-of-year finance report last month, which has brought the threat of sanctions from the Federal Election Commission, because of concerns about the performance of Matthew R. MacFarlane, Troy Meeker and Michael Napoli.
MacFarlane, 22, was both campaign manager and treasurer when fired Jan. 24. Meeker, also 22, was a communication director eventually named as co-manager. Napoli, 21, was a field director.
“The moment I became concerned with Mr. MacFarlane’s performance managing the financial controls of the campaign, I took action. Mr. Napoli and Mr. MacFarlane so grossly mismanaged operations in the field that I am shocked Mr. Meeker had fallen in with them. Mr. Meeker and I did get along and I do wish him well,” Wolf said.
Meeker, who is gay, complained in a letter distributed to the press last week that Wolf had made disparaging remarks about his romantic life, which contributed to a hostile work environment that MacFarlane and Napoli also blamed on Wolf’s temper.
In an interview later Thursday, Wolf denied making any anti-gay comments and noted he was one of the Republicans who signed an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court last year in support of gay marriage by Kenneth H. Mehlman, the former GOP national chairman.
Wolf said his campaign still was viable, as would be demonstrated when it files its overdue end-of-year finance report after the completion of an audit. He said he saw nothing wrong in placing his campaign in the hands of three college-age men.
“They seemed to be doing a fine job until shortly before we discovered some deficiencies,” Wolf said. He declined to name those deficiencies.
The three former staffers said they stand by their criticism of Wolf.
“It took them a week to put out a half-baked response to three media outlets,” Meeker said. The Mirror posted a story last week about problems in the campaign, including Meeker’s allegations. The Connecticut Post wrote about Meeker’s letter last week, and The Hartford Courant had a story this week.
“He kind of tiptoed around it,” Meeker said of his complaints. “Essentially, it’s a bunch of fluff.”
Napoli said Wolf either fired or drove off his more experienced staff.
“I wasn’t brought on as a highly paid professional. In fact all these consultants and professionals that were with him before were fired,” Napoli said. “He brought on me. I’m 21. I’m trying to get an internship. I didn’t imagine I’d become a full-time staffer, but I did. There’s an old saying, you get what you pay for.”
Napoli, who says he initially was paid $125 a week, then $250 a week, said he believes he and other other young staffers did a good job for Wolf despite their inexperience.
“I think he’s really grasping at straws to imply it’s my fault or anyone else’s fault but Augie’s,” he said.
The campaign’s statement did not explain why his original staff left not long after contributions dwindled to just $83,000 in the three-month period ending Sept. 30 or why he chose three inexperienced replacements. The campaign described Wolf as having “complete trust in his former staff and believed that they were doing the right thing.”
“I will always be honest, open, and ethical,” Wolf said. “I will use facts to attack and defend against insinuations. Mr. Meeker is not correct in his letter dated February 25, 2016; in fact, minute details are significant and exact words do matter. There were a lot of wheels-spinning under the former campaign management, but results were lacking. The absence of accountability fed a culture of irresponsibility amongst the former staff.”
MacFarlane said he stepped into top roles that no one else wanted.
“August Wolf chose to designate me as treasurer only to avoid the embarrassment of being listed as the treasurer for his own committee,” MacFarlane said. “As a condition of my taking on that obligation, I told August that he would have to exhaust all possible candidates. I have no background in campaign finances, and I had no interest in doing that.”
MacFarlane said Wolf fired the law firm responsible for compliance with campaign finance laws around the same time his first treasurer was fired.
Wolf did not address complaints that the campaign reclassified them as contractors, not employees, to avoid having to comply with labor laws pertaining to the minimum wage.
His campaign said, “The bottom line is that Mr. MacFarlane and Mr. Napoli’s termination had to do with their poor performance. It is unfortunate that Mr. Meeker’s departure has started a media circus. Taking the low road is the path of career politicians; this campaign will always take the high road.”
Wolf is the only candidate for the Republican nomination to oppose U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat seeking a second six-year term this fall. Some GOP activists say they are seeking an alternative.