The State Elections Enforcement Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to investigate whether the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Obsitnik has illegally raised campaign contributions or improperly coordinated activities with FixCT., Inc., an independent expenditure committee promoting Obsitnik.
The investigation indefinitely delays Obsitnik from obtaining public financing for his campaign, potentially a fatal blow given that that the five-way Republican primary is just six weeks away, on Aug. 14.
Obsitnik is one of three gubernatorial candidates, all Republicans, who sought public financing this year under the voluntary Citizens’ Election Program, which imposes strict limits on campaign contributions and spending. The commission declined for the fifth time Wednesday to approve Obsitnik’s application for a $1.35 million grant for his primary.
The commission’s investigation, according to the resolution adopted by the panel, was initiated “based on facts discovered in the course of a staff validation of a Citizens’ Election Program grant application, into potential campaign finance violations pertaining to the solicitation on behalf of and the receipt of contributions by the Obsitnik for Connecticut committee.”
An investigative subpoena for documents also was authorized.
Dan Debicella, the former state senator who is managing Obsitnik’s campaign, said he was unaware of what prompted the investigation, saying the campaign’s previous interactions with the commission related to technical questions about documentation of qualifying contributions for the public-financing grant.
To qualify, a gubernatorial campaign must raise $250,000 in contributions ranging from $5 to $100. Each contribution must be accompanied by certifying documentation about the donor’s name, residence, and whether they are a state contractor.
“We have been talking with SEEC constantly about our grant and will cooperate,” he said after CT Mirror read him the resolution. “They haven’t contacted us about any of what you just said.”
CT Mirror reported Monday that FixCT, Inc., an independent-expenditure group formed by one of Obsitnik’s early supporters, has raised $137,000 and spent $112,000, mostly on digital marketing by Connect Strategic Communications, which briefly worked for Obsitnik’s campaign last year as its email vendor. When there is a shared vendor or staff, there is a rebuttable presumption of coordination by a company and IE committee.
But the commission did not indicate if that was the grounds for including FixCT in the investigation.
Scott DePetris, the chairman of FixCT, declined comment Wednesday. Last week, DePetris declined to talk in detail about the origins of FixCT, its ambitions, or his relationship with Obsitnik, a tech entrepreneur and Annapolis graduate.
“Fix CT, Inc was formed by a group of CT residents with a shared concern over the future prospects for our State,” DePetris said in an email. “We believe that Hartford needs to employ a new approach to the problems facing CT and that Steve Obsitnik is the candidate that can meet the challenge and drive CT forward.”
DePetris and his wife, Kateri, hosted a small meet-and-greet fundraiser at their home for Obsitnik on March 21, 2017, when Obsitnik was first raising money through an exploratory campaign. DePetris and Obsitnik served together a week later as judges in a “pitch competition” for entrepreneurs trying to launch startups.
FixCT has three major donors, led by Thomas E. McInerney, a venture capitalist who has contributed $2.3 million to conservative Super PACs in recent years.
McInerney contributed $100,000 to FixCT, $25,000 in April and $75,000 last month. He gave gave $100 in February to the Obsitnik campaign, the maximum Obsitnik could accept as a candidate seeking public financing.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and former Trumbull First Selectman Timothy Herbst each qualified for public financing last week. Two others, David Stemerman and Bob Stefanowski, have opted out of the program.