The Leo Canty campaign filed a campaign finance complaint with the state elections enforcement commission (SEEC) Monday, alleging his fellow Democrat and opponent in the race for the party's fifth district nomination, Brandon McGee, "violated state campaign finance law by benefiting from independent expenditures totaling nearly $40,000 from the Great New England Public Schools Alliance (GNEPSA). GNEPSA is tied to StudentsFirst, the education privatization group headed by Michelle Rhee," according to a statement released by the campaign.
According to SEEC filings, GNEPSA, an organization that names its largest private financial backers in recent months as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Dr. Steve Perry of Hartford's Capitol Prep, ConnAd and StudentsFirst, has made three independent expenditures in support of McGee since Wed., Sept. 26.
GNEPSA's contributions were given directly to three Washington, D.C.-based organizations (SDK Knickerbocker, Switchboard Communications and Civic Census Group) for canvassing, setting up a phone bank and campaign advertisements.
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Canty harshly criticized the contributions Monday, saying, "Brandon's campaign literature focuses on building strong public schools, yet he’s the beneficiary of a shocking and possibly illegal campaign contributions [sic] from a group that wants to destroy our public schools – a group launched by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, no less. This is unacceptable on every level.”
While GNEPSA, a group with interests in education legislation, may be working to get McGee's name out, McGee emphasized his independence from the group's actions, Monday.
"I have not received money from anybody. I have no control over contributions," he said, pointing out that candidates, according to campaign finance rules, "have no idea who's contributing or giving to the campaign."
"We have $524 in our account... We're running on little to no money. Everything we're doing now, with hundreds of volunteers, is because people believe in what I stand for," McGee added.
Explaining that he has "no control over organizations looking to advance their own interests," McGee said he sees GNEPSA's involvement, as asserted by others, as an effort against Canty's run for election.
"They're using me to get to him, and it's unfortunate" said McGee. "It's unfortunate that four days before an election... these people can just come out of nowhere and do what they want, and the candidate has no control over it."
Liam Sweeney of the McGee campaign agreed, pointing out that GNEPSA's involvement "is not about Leo and Brandon."
It's about two groups with education interests at stake, said Sweeney, explaining that Canty, who is vice president of Connecticut's American Federation of Teachers (AFT), received financial support from the AFT.
According to SEEC filings, the AFT contributed $1,500 to the Canty campaign through Grassroots Strategies, Inc.
The candidates, Sweeney said, "are caught in a war" between the two groups.
Canty campaign manager Al Simon denounced GNEPSA's support of the McGee campaign, saying the contribution "has nothing to do with issue advocacy and everything to do with stealing the election."
According to state documents, the Citizen's Election Program is a voluntary program, through which eligible candidates receive full public campaign financing. The program, according to the state, was implemented to avoid a candidate's "reliance on special interest money," to relieve candidates of special interest influence, to restore public confidence in government, to aid in public access to campaign finance information and to encourage citizen participation in campaigns.
The Canty campaign alleges the McGee campaign "violated the spirit and letter" of the campaign finance laws and violatedof section 9-703 of the Connecticut General Statutes, which addresses a candidate's agreement to abide by campaign expenditure limits outlined in the Citizen's Election Program.
The linchpin to the allegations made by the Canty campaign, according to complaint filed, is "circulating literature with a picture of Brandon McGee that does not appear on any of his own campaign literature and could only have been obtained by coordination of this expenditure with the McGee campaign."
According to McGee, he learned of GNEPSA's contribution and subsequent allegations of a campaign finance law violation through social media.
Outside of denying any involvement with GNEPSA's efforts, McGee said he's looking forward to finishing a positive campaign.
"My opponent is looking to divide [people]," McGee said in reference to the Canty campaign's allegations. "I can't compete with all the negativity. I'm seeking to bring people together, even and if it takes going through challenging moments like this, and that's what you want in a leader."
Sweeney said the campaign will continue to stick to what has worked: "Old school politics, door knocking and making phone calls."
"It's unfortunate there's a change in tone," Sweeney added, referencing the allegations, "but Brandon and the campaign will remain positive... Brandon and I both have respect for Canty and his campaign."
Canty and McGee will appear on the Democratic ballot during Windsor and Hartford's October 2 primary. In Windsor, voting districts one, two and three (L.P. Wilson, John F. Kennedy School and 330 Windsor Ave.) are open.
The winner of the primary will be named the Democratic party's nominee in the race for fifth district state representative, and will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot against Republican candidate Paul Panos.