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Thu October 6, 2011
The Bully Pulpit Of Public Office
The bully pulpit of public office can be a powerful thing. But should a public official use that influence to raise money for a charity of his choosing? As WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, it's the latest in a series of ethical questions facing Hartford city officials. Adam Cloud was appointed the city's treasurer earlier this year and is in the middle of his first campaign for the office. As treasurer, it's his job to manage the city's pension funds, its borrowing, and its relationship with the banks that work for the city. But WNPR has learned that Cloud has also used his office to fundraise from those same banks. Emails obtained from the city show that, in August, Cloud used his city email address to ask five banks -- all of whom do work for the city -- to donate money to a non-profit run by a man active in the city's Democratic politics. Specifically, Cloud asked representatives of Webster Bank, Sovereign Bank, Bank of America, and two others -- to donate $2,500 to a charity called Hartford Communities That Care. In his email, Cloud said the money was for back-to-school supplies for city kids. We asked Cloud whether using his public office to solicit donations from city vendors for a non-profit was appropriate. He said his goal is to make sure that companies that make money off of the city's taxpayers give something back. "I do not believe that what I have done is improper or wrong. If I am wrong about that, I stand corrected. But I want to take a stand on the fact that there are non-profits that do good work and I want to be an advocate to increase corporate citizenship that help and support non-profits in the City of Hartford." Cloud said he decided to raise money for the program because he was inspired by its good work -- not because he was in the middle of a political primary and the organization's executive director, Andrew Woods, is a political supporter. Hartford isn't unfamiliar with the intersection of politics and public life. Former Mayor Eddie Perez was found guilty last year of ignoring the line between the two. He was convicted on corruption charges and resigned from office. His replacement, Mayor Pedro Segarra, is running with Cloud on the Democratic ticket this November. Segarra says he's not familiar with the specifics of Cloud's situation. But generally speaking, the mayor said he frowns on using political office for private fundraising because of the message it could send to donors. Segarra: I personally in my office absolutely do not conduct any solicitations for fear that one would think that others are pressured into doing something that they might not have to do. Cohen: Would you do that yourself, would you send out an email from the mayor of Hartford's email to people who do business with the city saying, look, this is a great charity, kids need books and backpacks and pencils, can you do that... Segarra: We have to be careful how we do that. Cloud says he thinks his fundraising effort brought in about $3,000 for Hartford Communities That Care. It's the kind of thing he wants to do more of. "I am very proud of the decision to help young kids -- I will fight to my dying death to be an advocate that those organizations and our young people in our community that is disenfranchised have somebody like me in the office to go fight like hell to make sure that if I can help to make their lives a little better, I'm damn sure going to try and do that." Meanwhile, Cloud is in the middle of a different tangle -- with city hall. He has supervised his wife in the office of the treasurer. It's a situation that Segarra, and city auditors, say needs to change. For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.