Mayor Eddie A. Perez violated election law during his re-election bid when he spent city money to distribute newspaper advertisements and inserts that contained his picture and name, according to an agreement between Perez and election officials.
The agreement, which took a month for state officials and Perez to complete and was approved Wednesday by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, requires the mayor to pay the city $839 in restitution.
An agreement between the two sides appeared close in November, when the commission passed a tentative deal at their monthly meeting. But Perez did not agree to some of the language in the document, and negotiations continued for several weeks.
It is a violation of state law for an incumbent elected official running for re-election to spend public money during the 12 months before an election for television, radio, movie theater, billboard, bus poster, magazine or newspaper ads that contain the name, face or voice of the candidate.
The law previously had barred the similar use of public money within five months of an election, but was amended to 12 months on Jan. 1, 2006.
With eight months before the November general election, the city paid $20,000 to produce 50,000 copies of a 16-page newsletter called the Hartford Educator. About 24,000 copies of the newsletter were distributed to students and 9,140 appeared as a supplement in The Courant published in April, at a cost to the city of $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 each, each with Perez's picture.
Election officials said there is evidence that city staffers sought "to ascertain and comply with the requirements" of the law, though they mistakenly believed the older version of thestatutewas still on the books.
Perez spokeswoman Sarah Barr said Thursday that the city made "good faith" efforts to follow the law and did not break it on purpose.
Barr said the commission's order establishes that "there was no intentional violation of the law."
"These good faith efforts were recognized by the commission and a civil penalty will not be assessed," Barr said in an e-mail. "The Mayor has demonstrated true leadership by taking the financial penalty upon himself."
Because of a previous precedent, the commission "reluctantly" agreed not to require Perez to pay the production costs for the 9,140 copies of the Hartford Educator that appeared in The Courant, which election officials said were pro-rated at $3,650.
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 production costs for New Britain's advertisement.
The commission said in the Perez agreement that it intended to seek those costs in future cases concerning similar violations.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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