Panel: Mayor Illegally Spent City Money, Should Pay $839 In Restitution
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
November 15, 2007
State election officials found Wednesday that Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez in his re-election bid illegally spent city money to distribute newspaper advertisements and inserts that contained his picture and name.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission approved a tentative agreement for Perez to pay $839 in restitution to the city for the cost of placing the ads. The commission has given Perez 10 days to respond.
Perez did not return phone calls for comment Wednesday. Carl Nasto, Perez's city attorney, said the mayor is reviewing the document, which was approved by the commission at its meeting Wednesday.
It is against state law for an incumbent elected official who is seeking re-election to use public funds during the 12 months before an election to pay for television, radio, movie theater, billboard, bus poster, magazine or newspaper ads that contain the name, face or voice of the candidate.
The law had limited the use of public money within five months of an election, but was amended to 12 months on Jan. 1, 2006. Election officials said city officials "mistakenly" believed the old law was still on the books.
With eight months before the general election, the city paid $20,000 to produce 50,000 copies of a 16-page newsletter called the Hartford Educator. The newsletter was distributed to students and appeared as a supplement in The Courant in April, costing the city $639. The newsletter contained Perez's picture five times and his name 14 times.
The city also paid for advertisements for the city's 311 information line in four editions of The Hartford News, a local weekly newspaper. The ads ran in March at $50 a piece, each with Perez's picture.
Republican State Chairman Chris Healy filed the original complaint against Perez in May. He said he was "flabbergasted" by the commission's decision, calling it "comically inept" and an "$800 slap on the wrist."
"I'm just disappointed that the elections commission, sadly, failed to see the seriousness of Mayor Perez's actions and allowed him to stick the taxpayers with a $20,000 campaign ad," Healy said. "It is a terrible precedent. It undercuts, I think, the election commissions credibility and it makes a joke of the whole process, especially coming after the election."
Healy said he was disappointed that the commission, despite having all the facts it needed to come to its finding, waited until after Perez won re-election on Nov. 6.
"The evidence was there, it was plain to see, the paper trail was strong, the law was clear, and yet it took them five months and until after the election to come up with this," Healy said. "The people of Hartford should be outraged that they are made to pay $20,000 for a guy who raised $600,000 to get 6,000 votes."
This is not the first time the commission has found a politician to be in violation of the same law for the same reason. In 2004, then-Mayor Lucian Pawlak of New Britain paid $615 to reimburse that city for the cost of a newsletter called "The New Britain Educator," which ran in local newspapers and included Pawlak's picture, stories lauding the school system's accomplishments and a column by Pawlak. Like Perez, Pawlak did not have to pay the $18,000 production costs for New Britain's advertisement.
Some of Pawlak's key staffers at the time now work for Perez.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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