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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Rell officials pay fines

The flap over Rell campaign fundraiser seems to be comming to a conclusion but many questions remain. If the aides won't admit to violating the law, why are they paying a fine and why is Lisa Moody allowed to walk away from this matter with only a slap on the wrist from the governor?
Most, if not all, of the top Rell administration officials who improperly distributed gubernatorial fundraiser invitations have agreed to pay $500 civil fines under settlements up for approval today by state election enforcers - moving an election-year embarrassment for Gov. M. Jodi Rell close to an official, if not political, conclusion.

Several sources said Tuesday that roughly 20 state commissioners and their deputies - under investigation for handing their subordinates invitations for a Dec. 7 Rell campaign fundraiser - have signed agreements to pay the fine without admitting they violated a law banning them from soliciting political contributions.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission will consider the case this morning in Hartford, and "I am hoping that it will be concluded," Jeffrey B. Garfield, the commission's executive director, said Tuesday. He would not talk beyond that generality or confirm sources' reports of the settlements, which require commission approval.

Many of the affected officials have griped privately about having to pay a fine when the official who told them to hand out the invitations - Rell's chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody - escaped legal sanctions because she fell outside the law banning solicitations by "any department head or deputy department head."


A legislative committee will hold a hearing today on a bill that would close that loophole, and include Moody and the rest of the governor's staff under the solicitation ban.

The elections enforcement panel could have imposed a $2,000 civil fine on any official found in violation of the law. The panel's non-criminal probe continued after Chief State's Attorney Christopher L. Morano last month dropped his own investigation into possible criminal charges, saying a prosecution would have required proof of knowing and willful conduct.

However, Morano has been called to testify today before the legislature's elections committee to give his views on a bill intended to close the Moody loophole - and comments Tuesday by the committee's co-chairman indicate Morano may face some pointed questions.

Co-chairman Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport, said Morano has "set election law on its ear" by failing to proceed based on a perception of a lack of requisite intent. "Is he saying it's OK to do this?"