Daniel Zhao

As the race for the Elm City’s top office nears, campaign teams for Democratic Nominee Justin Elicker SOM ’10 FES ’10 and three-term incumbent Mayor Toni Harp are criticizing each other for what they call questionable campaign finance practices.

The People’s Campaign — a grassroots movement supporting Harp — has attacked Elicker for using the Democratic Town Committee to allegedly circumvent a self-imposed cap on individual donations. In a statement to the News on Sunday, Elicker’s Campaign Manager Gage Frank accused Harp of violating state law by allegedly using two single-candidate funding vehicles at the same time. Both Elicker’s team and the People’s Campaign have refuted the criticisms against their own fundraising practices.

While Elicker pledged to abide by restrictions set by the Democracy Fund, which limits individual donations at $390, he participated in DTC’s $1,000-suggested donation fundraiser as a featured speaker on Tuesday. According to a New Haven Independent report, none of the funds raised will go directly to Elicker’s campaign. Instead, the event serves to “support Democratic candidates and to ensure that the Democratic Party is strong, not only this year, but for the presidential election next year,” Elicker said.

Still, Alexander Taubes LAW ’15 — who is the treasurer for the People’s Campaign — called the fundraiser “the height of hypocrisy” and said the event was intended to fund “unified GOTV operations for [Elicker’s] campaign.” The suggested donation significantly exceeds the $390 limit that Elicker has publicly promised to maintain throughout the general election campaign, Taubes said.

Elicker denied his assertion. “It’s not accurate that this is a runaround [of Democracy Fund limits],” he told the New Haven Independent.

For their part, Elicker’s team accused the Harp 2019 campaign of violating Connecticut election statutes, which prohibit candidates from having more than one candidate committee registered as the funding vehicle for their campaign. A candidate’s main funding vehicle is considered their candidate committee — for Harp, Harp 2019, and for Elicker, Friends of Justin Elicker.

According to Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission spokesperson Joshua Foley, the chairperson of a single-candidate PAC must notify the candidate within seven days of its formation. That PAC is considered the candidate’s main funding vehicle if he or she does not disavow the PAC within 14 days or accepts any PAC funds.

The People’s Campaign filed to become a Political Action Committee on Oct. 4, shortly before Harp jumped back into the race last week. While PACs typically raise money to advance their political goals, Taubes said the group has not set up a bank account or accepted donations.

“The Harp 2019 campaign is in serious violation of Connecticut election statutes … violating the very laws that [then] Senator Harp voted to preserve in the legislature, and the public deserves to know who funds her campaign now,” Frank wrote in a statement to the News.

But People’s Campaign chair Emma Jones clarified that the People’s Campaign could support other candidates in the future. The statute against employing two funding vehicles only refers to PACs formed to support a single candidate. Jones added that when she spoke with SEEC representatives, they advised her to create a PAC that could fund any candidate.

Frank did not respond to questions about the validity of his earlier accusations and whether he still has concerns about campaign finance laws.

Prior to this week, Elicker’s campaign has questioned other aspects of Harp’s campaign fundraising practices. In March, the team filed an SEEC complaint against Harp and charged the mayor with failing to disclose the names of an unknown number of 2017 donors. Although Harp told the News in April that the 2017 donors’ names would be published soon, those names remain undisclosed. The Elicker campaign filed a second complaint in August about Harp’s 2019 finance reports, claiming that more than $5000 came from undisclosed donors.

“Mayor Harp has not disclosed nearly $100,000 of mystery donors from the 2017 campaign, nor $5,000 from the 2019 campaign,” Frank said in a statement to the News on Sunday.

This most recent bout comes after a series of heated exchanges between Harp and Elicker’s campaigns over the past several months.

The candidates have clashed over Elicker’s charges of Harp’s mismanagement of public funds corruption in City Hall and ads from the Harp campaign that likened Elicker to President Trump. Harp has previously accused Elicker’s wife, an assistant U.S. attorney, of using her position to initiate an FBI probe into her administration.

The general election will be held on Nov. 5.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu