Complaint Against Stewart Filed Over “obvious campaign promotion in car tax bills”

A formal complaint has been filed against Republican Mayor Erin Stewart with the State Elections Enforcement Commission by Democratic Chair Bill Shortell, according the city Democrats.

Shortell says that he filed the complaint in response to a brochure included in motor vehicle tax bills. The brochure, Democrats say, “included statements promoting Stewart’s candidacy under her campaign slogan ‘Leading the Way’ with information from Stewart’s campaign literature.”

State law prohibits a public official from using “public funds to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials intended to bring about his election or reelection” within three months prior to the election. The tax bills, containing the brochures arrived in taxpayers’ mailboxes in early September, well within the three month period.

Brochure advancing Mayor Stewart’s candidacy sent with motor vehicle tax bills in early September. State law bars use of public funds for candidate promotions within three months of elections.

Shortell says that, “including an obvious campaign promotion in car tax bills within the 90-day prohibition pushes the incumbent advantage too far and is a violation. It crosses the line and creates an unfair advantage. The law expressly prohibits incumbents from doing what the Mayor and Tax Collector did.”

Democrats say that their complaint also cites city Tax Collector Cheryl Blogoslawski, “for sending the brochure with the tax bills.”

The tax mailing would have normally been expected in late June, but it had been delayed by Stewart to within three months of the city elections, Stewart has said, because of the state budget.

Democrats say that Shortell’s complaint was filed last week, on September 13, 2017.

When Stewart was asked for a comment on whether she broke the law in sending the flyer with the tax mailing, her campaign manager, Justin Dorsey, responded, saying, “The allegations lack merit. The campaign will respond and cooperate with the SEEC in full confidence that we operate well within the law. These cheap political stunts to manufacture headlines before the election deter from the fact that Mayor Stewart has a proven record of success for our community.”

Shortell added that, “We have also filed or are in the process of filing complaints about the mayor’s illegal use of City Hall and its resources, including video equipment for her sagging re-election campaign. In addition, we are filing a complaint about a large campaign billboard that has remained on Main Street for three years, with no campaign expenditure cited, an illegal campaign contribution amount to thousands of dollars.”

The issue of the Stewart promotional flyer in car tax bills was made public in a column, by John McNamara, that was published in NBPoliticus and the New Britain Progressive on September 2, 2017.

Editor’s note 9/23/2017: The New Britain Progressive had asked Stewart for a comment for this article before it was published, on 9/20/2017. This article was was changed to reflect a comment submitted by Stewart’s campaign on 9/23/2017.