A recent taxpayer-funded newsletter from Democratic state Sen. Edward Meyer of Guilford has drawn a formal complaint, after Republicans learned it went only to constituents in one of the six towns Meyer represents – Branford – and it carried a photo of Democratic Branford First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos, who is seeking re-election Nov. 8.
“The direct and indirect effect of the photograph and subtext is to promote the re-election of ‘Unk’ DaRos,” Branford Republican town Chairman Ray Ingraham said in a written complaint last week to the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Ingraham seeks sanctions for Meyer including a fine, and wants DaRos’ campaign to reimburse the state for part of newsletter’s printing and mailing costs.
Meyer denies the newsletter was political, and says it complied with state law.
The episode illustrates again how much trouble can come of the “informational” mail that legislators get to send constituents at taxpayer expense. Controversy sometimes arises simply over the routine, $1-million-plus annual cost of the mailings, but it can be compounded when the newsletters are sent during the election season – when political activists are on the lookout for what they see as chicanery.
During even-numbered years, when legislators are up for re-election, they are specifically banned from constituent mailings between mid-July and Election Day. This is an odd-numbered year of municipal elections – but Ingraham said that Meyer’s newsletter is still illegal.
Ingraham called it significant that the mailing only went to people in DaRos’ town – not Meyer’s Senate district’s other towns of Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison and North Branford.
The newsletter’s photo showed DaRos testifying last month at a September legislative hearing in Hartford about problems with utility companies’ response to the Aug. 28 tropical storm, Irene. Shown next to him was Guilford’s first selectman, Republican Joseph Mazza, a Republican who isn’t seeking re-election. The caption said Mazza and DaRos were testifying “before a joint legislative hearing on Connecticut’s readiness and response to Tropical Storm Irene.”
Ingraham said it’s immaterial that the newsletter didn’t say to vote for the Democrat, because it gave DaRos public exposure at a critical time. He quoted a state law that says: “No official or employee of the state … shall authorize the use of public funds for a … promotional campaign or advertisement, which (A) features the name, face or voice of a candidate for public office.”
Meyer and a legislative aide for Senate Democrats, Lawrence Cook, said in separate interviews this week that the mailing to Branford residents featuring DaRos’ picture was not calculated. The Senate Democrats’ staff began a weekly mailing schedule for Meyer in January, sending up to 1,000 newsletters a week, gradually hitting all households in one district town before going onto the next, they said. Madison was first and Branford happened to be last, they added.
Meyer’s newsletters starting going to Branford July 19 at the rate of 950 a week, Cook said. At first the mailings focused on lowering energy costs and creating jobs, but after Sept. 19 and 26 legislative hearings about Irene, they were updated. By that time, only 2,642 of Branford’s 11,742 households had yet to receive mailings from Meyer, Cook said. The updated version now in question – showing DaRos – was sent to those 2,642 remaining homes around Oct. 1, he said.
“I did not write the mailing. The caption does not refer to ‘Unk’ DaRos as being a candidate. There’s nothing that is promoting his re-election,” Meyer said. “These first selectmen were coming up to testify about one of the most significant public events that we had in 2011.”
DaRos said he hadn’t known anything about Meyer’s newsletter, or that he would be in it, until after Ingraham’s complaint – which he called “typical.” He said Republicans can “do what they’ve got to do. We’ll handle it.”
Meyer said Senate Democrats’ counsel has declared the newsletter legal. Now it’s up to the election agency, which may take up the matter this week.Copyright © 2015, CT Now