A super PAC funded by the Democratic Governors Association began a TV campaign Wednesday to remind voters of Republican Bob Stefanowski’s former role as the chief executive officer at a payday loan company whose high-interest loans are illegal in Connecticut.
“What do you really know about Bob Stefanowski?” a narrator asks in the opening of a commercial by Stronger CT, a committee registered two weeks ago by the DGA. “He made millions running a payday loan company that charged working people up to 450% interest.”
With an initial expenditure of $408,468, the DGA began returning some of the fire directed at Gov. Ned Lamont by the CT Truth PAC, which has spent nearly $1.6 million attacking the Democrat. Another super PAC has made a $200,000 down payment on a promised $1 million campaign against Lamont.
“I think we’re moving more and more into a campaign season. I see a lot of PAC spending coming on the other side,” Lamont said. “So I think we’ll be there to talk about what I think is a pretty good track record for the state — where we were four years ago, where we are today, and where we want to be four years from now.”
Stefanowski, who has not begun regularly releasing a campaign schedule, was unavailable, but his campaign quickly issued a statement that ignored the content of the new ad and kept to what has been a consistent theme of his campaign: Lamont and other Democrats are to blame for inflation.
“We know Ned Lamont is stuck on the same old tired policies, and his friends at big money super PACs will say and do whatever they want to keep him in office,” said Liz Kurantowicz, an adviser. “We’re running a different campaign with new ideas while Ned Lamont and Democrats in Washington, D.C., are taking us back to inflation we haven’t seen in 40 years and the same status quo that’s costing families and businesses thousands and thousands of dollars.”
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Wednesday that inflation reached 9.1% in June, a measure of increased costs over the previous 12 months. The year-over-year May inflation rate was 8.6%.
Lamont noted that commodity prices had fallen in recent weeks after rising dramatically after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a potential harbinger of lower prices. The Wall Street Journal reported that some retailers are planning deep discounts to shed inventory in case of recession.
But the governor acknowledged that inflation was pressing consumers across their household budgets.
“Inflation is slamming people,” Lamont said. “All I’m trying to say, you look at grain and you look at soybeans and you look at oil and you look at those wholesale prices, they’ve come down say 10% in the last few weeks. That will be reflected. But in the meantime, I’ve got to do everything I can to help out people. That was what these tax cuts and rebates were all about.”
At Lamont’s request, the legislature acted in late March to suspend the state’s 25-cents-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline from April 1 through Nov. 30. The current budget also provided relief through, among other things, a $250 child tax credit, a higher property tax credit, lower car taxes in 75 communities and free bus fare.
Stefanowski has called on Lamont to use more of the state’s budget surplus for immediate tax relief, rather than paying down debt and setting aside money for a potential recession that could be a result of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to cool the economy with higher interest rates.
The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Connecticut was $4.60 on Wednesday, down 16 cents from a week ago and 38 cents from a month ago, but still sharply higher than the average price of $3.15 last July.
There is no threat of a recession on campaign spending.
Stefanowski has deposited $10 million of his own fortune into his campaign account, and his campaign already has spent at least $4.25 million, according to filings this week. He also has raised $1.1 million from other donors, including $508,759 in the financial quarter ending June 30.
Lamont, who spent $15 million in 2018 and already has personally spent $6.3 million on his reelection, is hardly in need of financial support from the DGA. But outside groups have a freer hand in making attacks that do not necessarily splash back on the candidates they are trying to help.
By law, groups like Stronger CT and CT Truth PAC operate independently of the campaigns and are solely responsible for the content of their ads.
Stronger CT’s funds came from the DGA, whose donors include major corporations and individuals.
Nearly all CT Truth PAC’s money has come from three businessmen. David Kelsey of Old Lyme and Thomas E. McInerney of Westport each gave $750,000; Raymond Debbane of Greenwich, an investor and chairman of Weight Watchers, gave $100,000.
Lamont spoke to reporters Wednesday after appearing with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and community leaders at the site of a residential-and-retail project on the northern edge of downtown, a winner of a competitive grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
The governor has campaigned largely via daily official events publicizing his administration’s priorities and programs, an advantage of incumbency. The practice is not without risk, as it exposes Lamont to daily questioning by the press.
Stefanowski has yet to regularly share his campaign schedule, though he has held at least four press conferences since accepting the GOP endorsement in May and sat for an in-depth interview with CT Mirror. He planned a press availability for Thursday.
The Stronger CT commercial largely was a reprise of the greatest hits Democrats directed at Stefanowski in 2018, when he also was the GOP gubernatorial nominee.
Stefanowski’s role running a payday loan company, DFC Global, until 2017 was an issue in 2018, as was his proposal to try to eliminate the state income tax without raising other taxes. Half of the new commercial is a repeat of arguments Democrats made in 2018: That Stefanowski’s tax plan would devastate state services.
“Bob Stefanowski’s extreme record of hurting working families is wrong for Connecticut,” said Sam Newton, the deputy communications director for the DGA.
Newton also leveled a line of attack not in the current ad: Who are the clients who have enabled Stefanowski to more than triple his personal campaign spending over his effort in 2018, when he used $3 million of his own funds?
“What else does he have to hide?” Newton said.
Stefanowski has promised to release his tax returns but not necessarily the identity of his clients, some of whom are foreign. Stefanowski said that most, if not all, of his consulting work was covered by non-disclosure agreements.
The Democratic Governors Association played a minimal role in the open race for governor of Connecticut in 2018, but the DGA typically plays a more active role in protecting incumbents.
“I think they support the team,” Lamont said. “And I’m part of the team.”
The governor indicated to reporters after a late morning public event that he was generally aware that something was coming, though not the specifics.
The PAC had acted Tuesday to reserve television time, according to public filings with the FCC. It reported its initial expenditure Wednesday afternoon to the State Elections Enforcement Commission.