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Under Connecticut Law, Candidates Must Distribute Surplus Campaign Funds

BILL LEUKHARDT

November 28, 2009

In January 2008, West Hartford council member Chuck Coursey gave away $2,250.

He had to. By law.

That $2,250 was the surplus from Coursey's 2007 town council run. State election law requires all candidates losers and winners alike to distribute leftover campaign funds in specific ways. Candidates can't keep a cent.

"The law is clear," said Nancy Nicolescu, spokeswoman for the State Elections Enforcement Commission. "There are very specific ways that campaigns must disburse surplus funds."

It must be done by the Jan. 31 after each election. So in the next nine weeks, hundreds of candidates who were on municipal ballots statewide must file their final financial reports and get rid of any surplus money.

The options allowed by law include giving the surplus to a town committee or to registered nonprofit groups; returning pro-rated amounts to contributors; or donating the surplus to the state Citizens Election Fund, which provides money to candidates who opt for public financing of their election efforts.

None can be used to enrich the candidate, Nicolescu said Wednesday. Failure to comply with the law could result in fines of up to $2,000 for each violation, she said.

Surplus funds can also be given to a political committee, but only if it "agreed, by virtue of the acceptance of such a distribution, to never finance a future campaign of such candidate for elective office, whether a municipal office or some other office," the law states.

The law further states that any donation to a town committee must be made with no strings attached, evidence of state efforts to keep any leftover money from helping a candidate.

Final reports from municipal candidates are filed with local town clerks, not with the state, so the exact amount of leftover 2007 campaign money donated after that election is difficult todetermine. But conservative estimates place the figure well above $100,000.

It's impossible to say what the surplus will be for the 2009 election.

Candidates ran leaner campaigns, a result of the recession, and many candidates did not have a contributions windfall.

Tom Dunn, who easily won a fourth term as mayor of Wolcott, doesn't expect to have anything left. If he does, he said, he'll do what he's done in the past "give it back to the community, to local charities such as youth football, cancer committees, social service groups."

Art Ward, elected to a second term as Bristol's mayor, said he may have some money left from the campaign. "If I do, I'll give it to the town committee or local nonprofits."

Raising a lot of money for a local campaign isn't a guarantee of unspent donations. Rob Durbin, a West Hartford Democrat who raised the most of any of the 12 council candidates more than $23,500 for his successful run, is unsure whether he'll have any surplus because of the cost of his numerous townwide mailings.

Coursey, the West Hartford council member, did not seek re-election to a fourth term and stepped down this week when the new council was sworn in. So he has no funds to distribute, unlike after the 2007 campaign, when he gave $750 to the West Hartford Library Foundation and three $500 donations to the Hope Works group for troubled children, the Noah Webster House and Connecticut Family Theater.

"I've always given surplus funds to local nonprofits ever since the first time I ran," Coursey said Tuesday, the day after retiring from the council. "There's no shortage of good organizations to help."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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