Zupkus settles election complaint

Lezlye Zupkus
Lezlye Zupkus

HARTFORD — State Rep. Lezlye Zupkus is the latest Republican candidate from 2014 to settle an election complaint for referencing Gov. Dannel Malloy in campaign fliers in 2014.

The two-term Prospect lawmaker and Paul Villillo, her 2014 campaign treasurer, signed a settlement agreement earlier this month that admitted to the election violation, but its final approval was delayed due to a paperwork issue.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission approved the settlement at a special meeting Wednesday. A vote at its regular monthly meeting was postponed last week because commissioners had not received a copy of the agreement.

In all, 16 Republican candidates and political committees were accused of election violations based on complaints that were lodged against their campaigns in 2014.

Like Zupkus and Villillo, many of the candidates and their treasurers have elected to accept settlements that acknowledged the election violations and imposed no fines, but there are some holdouts, including state Rep. Robert Sampson, R-Wolcott, and state Sen. Joseph Markley, R-16th District.

In October 2014, the SEEC issued an advisory opinion that cautioned candidates participating in the Citizens’ Election Program against using state election grants to promote any other candidate, or oppose a candidate other than their direct opponent.

Zupkus, Sampson, Markley and other Republican candidates used some of their grants to pay for campaign fliers that referenced Malloy in addition to their opponents.

In the Zupkus case, her campaign used some of its $28,266 grant to pay for mailings that opposed Malloy and former Rep. Vickie Nardello in a rematch of the close 2012 contest that Zupkus won by 233 votes.

“I think the commission clearly in this agreement makes the point that such attacks on a gubernatorial candidate using public funds for a state representative race does not comply with the statutes and the regulations with regard to a candidate participating in the Citizens’ Election Program,” said William. Smith, one of the staff attorneys handling the investigations and settlement negotiations.

He said one Zupkus flier stated, “Dan Malloy and Vickie Nardello gave us the largest tax increase in state history. Where has this gotten us?” He said another held Malloy and Nardello responsible for the state’s ranking eighth worst in job recovery after the Great Recession.

The approved settlements have stated expenditures of this kind would have been permissible if they had been split proportionately between each candidate’s campaign and the campaign of Thomas Foley, the Republican nominee for governor.

The state Republican Party also could have paid for such advertising because that would have been an allowable party expenditure.

Markley and Sampson are refusing to settle because they contend the SEEC’s position improperly abridges the political speech of GOP candidates. Election regulators deny the claim.

The Markley and Sampson cases continued another month last week, but they are not alone in contesting alleged violations for referencing Malloy in campaign materials.

Senate candidates John French and Steven Everett have demanded a hearing before the SEEC. The commission voted last week to schedule the hearings, but the dates still had not been set Thursday.