Sen. Martin Looney’s mayoral campaign stepped up the attack against incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr., accusing him of illegally using taxpayer money for campaign activities.

In a complaint filed with the state Elections Enforcement Commission Monday, Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett said DeStefano used public funds to send out copies of a New York Times article praising New Haven just days before his campaign sent out the same article.

“Obviously, it’s a political piece. That’s why the campaign sent it out,” Bartlett said. “It’s a basic principle of politics — you do not mix your mayoral duties with campaign duties.”

The matter came to the Looney campaign’s attention when Nicholas Neeley, a former Looney campaign manager, received both letters.

Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez, a member of DeStefano’s campaign, denied that the article was political in nature, since it did not criticize Looney or push for the reelection of DeStefano.

Gonzalez added that DeStefano’s office often sends out informational pieces to members of the community, while the campaign sends materials to supporters and to ward committee members such as Neeley. He said he saw no conflict in sending the same information to both groups.

“The fact that the campaign and mayor’s office both sent out the same piece of information shows it is a valuable one for people to have and understand,” Gonzalez said.

A representative of the state Elections Enforcement Commission could not be reached for comment last night.

Robert Smuts ’01, a DeStefano campaign worker, compared the article sent out by DeStefano to a mailing sent by Looney’s senate office, saying that both were typical examples of pieces sent to constituents. The Looney mailing, obtained by the Yale Daily News Monday, summarized Looney’s accomplishments in the previous legislative session and previewed future legislative issues.

But Bartlett said the Looney piece was far different than the material sent by DeStefano, since everything sent by senators is approved by legislative lawyers to ensure it meets the Senate’s ethics rules.

Gonzalez said a letter Looney sent to DeStefano criticizing the mayor’s role in the failed Galleria at Long Wharf mall was a far more blatant example of using official letterhead and taxpayer money to engage in campaign activities. The letter was sent soon after Looney filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission alleging DeStefano had not provided him with sufficient access to mall-related documents.

The FOI Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on Looney’s mall complaint Thursday. Bartlett said a member of state Attorney General Richard Bluementhal’s office will represent Looney, a move approved by the state Senate. Bartlett said it was clear that the state Senate and the attorney general’s office thought Looney was acting as a senator and not a political candidate when he filed the FOI complaint.

“State Senator Looney knows when he’s in the capital, he’s not to be doing any campaign activities,” Bartlett said. “Any use of Senate stationary would be a serious violation.”

Gonzalez said the incident was similar to complaints by Looney in December about another New York Times article sent out by DeStefano. Bartlett, who had not yet joined the Looney team, said Monday the exchange was news to him.

Gonzalez said the most recent complaint represents desperation by the Looney campaign.

“To blow this out of proportion really speaks to a level of cynicism and negative campaigning that is quickly becoming a trademark of their campaign,” he said.

Bartlett continues to maintain that the DeStefano mailings were a gross abuse of the mayoral office.

“I think it’s offensive that he’s running a political campaign out of the mayor’s office,” Bartlett said. “The mayor should be taking great pains to make sure these kinds of things don’t happen.”