As the 2019 mayoral race heats up, Mayor Toni Harp is facing scrutiny over how her last campaign handled its finances and accounting obligations.
On Thursday, Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 filed a complaint with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission against Harp’s 2017 campaign committee for 13 alleged violations of the Nutmeg State’s campaign finance laws. Elicker, who announced his bid to challenge Harp in January, also asked the commission to investigate five other questions related to Harp’s last campaign, including nearly $100,000 in unattributed donations. The filing comes in the wake of a report from the New Haven Register that the campaign recently closed its file — more than a year after the election concluded.
“Campaign finance law in Connecticut is very clear that you need to report who the donor is,” Elicker told the News in an interview. “Ultimately, campaigns are influenced by donations. If the public doesn’t know who donated, they also don’t know … who might have had some influence. The public deserves to know. Because there is not donor information, it’s unclear if there were also other violations.”
The primary issues Elicker raised in his complaint surround the disclosure of donor information and the campaign’s late filings of mandatory reports to the state. He named Harp and her campaign treasurer, Jonathan Peter Wilson, as the respondents to the complaint and alleged that the violations occurred from June 2017 to this January — when the campaign finally settled its finances and closed its file.
Wilson filed the last batch of disclosure statements for the campaign on Feb. 20 but dated them on Feb. 14 — the same day that Harp announced she would seek a fourth consecutive term in the Elm City’s highest elected office. That last batch of filings — spanning three three-month periods of deficit disclosures and then a final termination report — follows the campaign’s finances from April 1, 2018 through Jan. 31, 2019. The SEEC requires that committees submit quarterly reports.
Elicker claims the weeklong discrepancy in dates is another violation of campaign finance law. Wilson was already named treasurer of Harp’s 2019 campaign committee, but filled out the paperwork for Harp to run again before he terminated the 2017 committee, making him briefly the treasurer of two open committees and “in violation of state statute,” the complaint stated. The date falsification — to avoid the issue of serving on two commissions — is also listed as a violation.
Wilson did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday evening.
The final filings and termination of the campaign committee came 14 months after Harp handily won the general election in 2017 — her opponent, Marcus Paca, chose to stop campaigning after the primaries. Elicker told the News that the missing files were only resolved when the Register published its look into the campaign committee.
In the 2017 campaign committee, Harp’s deputy treasurer was Fiona Williams-Linton. Williams-Linton told the News that she was “not aware” of the allegations and that she had “no comment” on the complaints. Harp tapped Andrea Scott as deputy treasurer for her current campaign.
In an interview with the News, Scott said that though she was personally unfamiliar with the complaints, Harp indicated to her that — though Wilson is still her treasurer — she intends to bring on an otherwise “complete new team for Harp 2019” to address “the discrepancies” and “clean up some of the things done in error”.
“People that are very experienced are working with [Wilson] to clean up some of the things that were done and put new systems in place so that it doesn’t happen again,” Scott said.
The 2019 mayoral race will not be the first Elicker-Harp battle. In 2013, the two ran to replace then-Mayor John DeStefano, who had served two decades in the city’s top job. Harp — a 20-year veteran representative of New Haven in the state legislature — narrowly won the election in a crowded Democratic primary that included the then-38-year-old Elicker, who had served two terms on the Board of Alders. After losing the primary, Elicker challenged Harp again in the general election and earned approximately 45 percent of the vote to Harp’s victorious 55.
Election finance laws in the state of Connecticut require that — in addition to the limits on individual donors — all money raised by a campaign for an election is publicly disclosed. Elicker alleges that a third of Harp’s 2017 fundraising total — more than $93,000 — is unaccounted for in disclosures.
Harp accounted for all of the money raised in the last quarter of 2016 and the first three quarters of 2017. Wilson attached printed spreadsheets with donor names, addresses and amounts to the filings. Each of those four filings had spreadsheet totals that matched the self-reported amount raised in that respective period.
In the final quarter of 2017 — which spanned Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, no spreadsheet was attached. Several filings after — including the four submitted in one breath spanning April 2018 through January 2019 — either did not have attached details of donors at all, or did not provide a total value on individual donations.
The SEEC was unable to immediately provide details as to the process of addressing complaints.
Elicker, as he did in 2013, is participating in the Democracy Fund, the city’s public financing initiative. Harp, who has not participated in the fund for the past three elections, will not participate in the initiative in the current electoral cycle either, she told the New Haven Independent on Feb. 14.
Mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer was unable to comment and told the News that, “the mayor’s political activities are not part of city government and are not administered at City Hall.”
Harp is New Haven’s 50th mayor.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org