DeStefano campaign finance probe continues

A state agency may soon join the widening probe into Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s 2009 campaign finances.

The New Haven Democracy Fund board voted in December to ask the State Elections Enforcement Commission to investigate connections DeStefano’s 2009 reelection campaign may have had with the political action committee, Elm & Oak PAC, Democracy Fund Administrator Robert Wechsler said.

The Democracy Fund was created three years ago to provide public funding for candidates who qualify and agree to abide by the Fund’s rules. So far, the only candidate who has received money from the Fund is DeStefano.

Democracy Fund Board Chair Caleb Kleppner last week said the Fund sent a letter to the SEEC but has not received a reply. In the meantime, the board does not intend to continue its own investigation of DeStefano’s campaign finances, Kleppner said.

Before complaining to the SEEC, the Fund was looking into whether the campaign’s relationship with the Elm & Oak PAC broke the Democracy Fund’s rules because the PAC paid DeStefano’s 2009 campaign manager, Keya Jayaram, and possibly paid for campaign expenses.

Jayaram acknowledged the board’s right to file a complaint with the SEEC, but she said she does not think the state will find any “evidence of wrongdoing.”

In a November interview, Hector Rivera, treasurer of the Elm & Oak PAC, said the committee paid Jayaram only for work she did for the Elm & Oak PAC.

An attorney for DeStefano’s 2009 campaign, Elia Alexiades, said at the Democracy Fund Board’s Dec. 21 meeting that the Fund did not have the authority to file the complaint with SEEC. But the Democracy Fund voted unanimously to send the complaint, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Wechsler said the Fund turned to the state because the state has jurisdiction over both Elm & Oak and DeStefano’s campaign whereas the board only has jurisdiction over the latter. Elm & Oak PAC has refused to provide the Democracy Fund’s board with information on its 2009 activities. Unlike the Fund, SEEC has the authority to obtain that information, Wechsler said.

“The important thing really for the board was they wanted a full investigation and they couldn’t do it,” Wechsler said.

Ben Shaffer ’09, DeStefano’s deputy campaign manager, said he does not think there was anything improper about DeStefano’s relationship with the political action committee.

“I think if the state opens an investigation, we’ll finally get to the bottom of this,” Shaffer said.

In November, the board decided not to penalize DeStefano’s 2007 campaign for giving $12,500 in excess funds to another political action committee, the James Hillhouse Society.

Comments