The State Elections Enforcement Commission is investigating a complaint alleging that potential 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley may have violated state election laws, by failing to create a candidate committee when he commissioned a March poll that gauged his chances against incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The poll was paid for by a political action committee that poured $278,526 into Connecticut legislative campaigns last year and was released publicly by a Foley ally in April. It found that Malloy is “vulnerable” to a challenge next year, and that Foley — who narrowly lost the 2010 election to Malloy — is the strongest of the potential GOP contenders to unseat him.
Foley and his attorney, Charles Spies of Washington, D.C., both acknowledged in recent days that the election agency is investigating a complaint filed by a Hamden Republican, and that discussions are underway to resolve it.
But both denied that it was a violation to have the poll done without filing papers to form a candidate committee, which would require quarterly reports to the commission on fund-raising and spending.
“The issue is whether or not I am a candidate under the statute, and I don’t believe I am, and [my attorneys] don’t believe I am,” Foley said. He said the poll was intended to help him decide whether to run; that, he said, doesn’t make him a candidate.
Spies said that election laws only require formation of such a committee if a person spends money “for the purpose of influencing” the outcome of an election, and the poll did not do that. He said the poll, done by The Tarrance Group of Alexandria, Virginia, gauged the “political landscape” and “a variety of issues,” as well as “attitudes towards multiple individuals.”
However, that wasn’t the view of Anthony Santino, the Hamden Republican who filed the complaint and who described himself as active in local politics but not affiliated with any particular potential Republican gubernatorial candidate for 2014.
“It would seem that this political poll represents something of value and, as such, should be considered a ‘benchmark’ poll for Mr. Foley’s 2014 campaign for governor, especially considering the fact that he measured himself, Governor Malloy, and a host of potential Republican candidates he may face in a 2014 Republican Primary,” Santino wrote April 18 to the elections enforcement agency.
“Since this political poll is clearly in furtherance of his candidacy and the fact that the poll asked questions that would assist Tom Foley in bringing about his nomination or election to the office of Governor … I believe this political poll is in violation of a number of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws,” he wrote.
He also said that Foley has referred to himself in public forums and news articles as either “running for governor” or as a “candidate.” Santino said he believes “that these statements, uncorrected, should have triggered the requirement that Mr. Foley create a candidate committee and file quarterly reports.”
Foley said the poll cost about $15,000, and that he’d “asked that it be done.” But Spies said it was paid for by Voters for Good Government Inc., a new super-PAC that raised controversy last year when it made $278,526 in “independent expenditures” in Connecticut legislative campaigns in efforts to defeat Democrats and support Republicans. Those efforts included cable TV commercials and direct mail.
The super-PAC, to which Greenwich billionaire Thomas Peterffy donated heavily last year, is incorporated in Delaware and maintains a post office box in Fairfield. The managing director is Liz Kurantowicz, former chief of staff and finance director for the Connecticut Republican Party. She also had worked in former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office. Kurantowicz could not be reached Tuesday.
Other potential Republican gubernatorial candidates considered in the March poll were House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney. The poll gave McKinney better prospects than the first two but said they weren’t nearly as well-known statewide as Foley.
Santino said he’d felt comfortable with Cafero as a candidate, although not committed to him — but Cafero withdrew from gubernatorial campaign consideration a week ago. Santino said no other candidates or political operatives had suggested or asked that he file the complaint against Foley.
“Do you believe that?” Foley asked a reporter who told him of Santino’s comment. Foley said that he doesn’t believe it, and thinks that somebody favoring another candidate must have had something to do with it.
Foley said the fact that he didn’t pay personally for the poll he commissioned has no bearing on the question of whether he should have filed a candidate committee. No matter who paid for the poll, Foley said, the question is whether it advanced him as a candidate or sought to influence — adding that it didn’t do those things because he hasn’t made a final decision on whether to run for governor. But he’s widely expected to run.