Elections commission fines Trumbull Democrats

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has fined the Trumbull Democrats $300 and issued a reprimand for failing to report campaign expenses related to the 2011 elections.

In a six-page decision SEEC representative Michael Brandi cited the "prior history" of the DTC in making his decision. Brandi originally fined the DTC $500, but later reduced the fine after receiving additional evidence from the DTC.

"Because of respondent's previous history of violating [State Statute] 9-608, the commission stresses that civil penalty in the amount of $500 is directly linked to a consideration of past violations," he wrote.

The decision dates back to a 2011 complaint where Republican Chairman Jack Testani alleged that Democratic Chairman Nancy DiNardo had received an illegal campaign contribution from a corporation. Testani said the Democrats had set up a campaign office in Trumbull Center, but had not paid any rent.

The Democrats occupied the office for September, October and November of 2011, but the party's October campaign finance report filed with the state did not show any rent payments. Political parties are required to file financial statements with the state on the 10th day of January, April, July, and October.

After investigating, Brandi determined that the DTC had paid $2,000 rent for the three months it occupied the office and that the expense was noted on the party's Jan. 10 filing.

"The Commission finds therefore that the evidence does not support the allegation that the TDTC received prohibited business entity contributions in the form of use of office space for its headquarters, or that Ms. DiNardo solicited or received a prohibited business entity contribution on behalf of the committee," Brandi wrote. "The Commission therefore dismisses this allegation."

But state law requires an itemized accounting of expenses incurred but not paid, and the DTC was obligated to file SEEC paperwork indicating that the group had signed a lease agreement in September but would pay the balance of the lease when it terminated.

Mary Markham, the DTC treasurer, said in her response that she had not participated in the lease arrangements and had not received a bill for the office until November. Therefore she could not have filed a report listing the expense because she did not know the amount.

In levying the fine, Brandi cited four prior violations of election law, including two violations of State Statute 9-608. In 2007 and 2009, the commission found that the DTC had failed to properly itemize fund-raising and individual contribution totals, once for a golf tournament and once for reporting a donation above the legal limit of $1,000.

Subsequent investigation revealed that the party's accounting program had inadvertently combined two separate donations. After both violations the DTC representatives signed an order pledging "strict compliance" with election laws in the future.

After the verdict, Testani said DiNardo, who earlier this year filed an election complaint over Republican House candidate David Rutigliano giving out coupons to his restaurant while campaigning, should take better care of her own party's affairs before complaining about the GOP.

"It appears that Nancy DiNardo is eager to file complaints against the Republican Party, however, she is challenged with keeping her own house in order," Testani said.

DiNardo characterized the violations as clerical errors, noting that the SEEC revises its laws almost every year and routinely runs training sessions to keep town committees up to date on the requirements.

"The way the laws are set up and changing all the time, it's very easy to make these kinds of clerical mistakes," DiNardo said. She pointed out that the basis of Testani's complaint - illegal campaign contributions from a business - had been dismissed.

"This is obviously more about embarrassing me than upholding election law," DiNardo said.