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Endorsement Of Ritter Never Mentions Payments

E-Mail From Ritter Doesn't Include Group's For-Profit Status Or His Payments To It


August 07, 2010

Democratic legislative candidate Matt Ritter of Hartford sent out a campaign e-mail on April 30 touting a community group's endorsement of him in his Aug. 10 primary contest with incumbent state Rep. Ken Green, D-Hartford — but it turns out that the group is a for-profit corporation that Ritter is paying $4,000 to help him get elected.

The glowing announcement by Ritter, a Hartford councilman, left out both the financial connection and the fact that the group is a for-profit corporation, for which incorporation papers were only filed in March.

The campaign e-mail included a color picture of Ritter, who is white, with a number of African American and Latino women involved in the group, and their children. Many residents of the 1st House District, which includes parts of Hartford and Bloomfield, are members of racial or ethnic minorities.

"Matt is pleased to announce that he has received a major endorsement: The Voices of Women of Color (VOWC) has unanimously voted as an organization to support Matt for State Representative," went Ritter's announcement. "The Voices of Women of Color is a diverse group of over 35 women dedicated to improving the lives of Hartford residents through outreach, social programming and leadership training. Matt is honored and excited to have their support. Janice Flemming, President of VOWC, said the organization decided to endorse Matt because 'he works, he listens and he responds.' "

However, the announcement didn't mention that on April 29 — the day before the endorsement was announced — Ritter's election committee treasurer signed a contract starting May 1 with the Voices of Women of Color to do campaign work such as distributing literature, phone-calling, door-knocking and organizing community events. The contract ran to June 30, paying $2,000, a recent campaign finance report shows. Another $2,000 is to be paid for July and August, Flemming and Ritter said when contacted during the week by The Courant.

When contacted Friday, Green said he thought the campaign and the endorsing group should have disclosed their financial connection. Green, a 16-year incumbent, said he thought it was odd that he was unfamiliar with the group when he first heard of it a while ago because "I have a community organization background" through both his public office and his job as a school social worker.

When the endorsement came out, "I think it should have been made clear that they were being paid," said Green. "I just don't think it was quite transparent and open to the community" not to mention it, he said.

Ritter said in an interview that he didn't pay for the endorsement. The endorsement came on its own, weeks before it was announced, long before there was any thought of paying the women, he said. Ritter said he met with Flemming and other members of her group at the home of Trude Mero, an influential North End Democratic political figure, and they agreed on issues. He said they started doing volunteer campaign work such as knocking on doors for him — "they were terrific and helpful" — and it worked out so well that he decided to hire them.

"I've known Janice Flemming for a very long time," Ritter said, noting her work as a community organizer for Hartford Areas Rally Together and the Blues Hills Civic Association.

Flemming said that even though the group incorporated only in March, it dates to 2009, when she began trying to organize poor women of diverse backgrounds to improve their lives and communities, and to educate them about how to hold government representatives and agencies accountable. "We researched every candidate," she said. Group members agreed with Ritter's views and his responsiveness to the community, Flemming said.

She said that she had made about 20 previous video programs, which are shown on a community online video network, under the name "Voices of Women of Color," and that the group evolved from that. She said that one of the reasons she decided to incorporate as a for-profit LLC was so the poor women in the group could receive some small compensation for their work.

One of Flemming's videos, shot last month and now on the online network, shows her and other women conversing with Ritter about tenants' issues in an apartment in the Westbrook Village public project. A Ritter campaign sign is shown on the wall. Asked about that Friday, Green said he thinks the video should have included a campaign disclaimer saying that Ritter is paying the group — especially since Ritter, like Green, has received a $25,000 campaign grant under the state's public financing program.

Flemming's group has similar contracts for campaign work for two Democrats running in nearby House districts. Both of them — Leo Canty of Windsor, in the 15th House District, and incumbent Rep. Doug McCrory of Hartford, in the 7th House District —said that they have not made any public claims of endorsement by the group. They said they are treating its efforts strictly as paid campaign work, although both said that they and members of Flemming's group agree on political issues.

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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