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Campaign Funds Exposed

Former Mayor Tim O’Brien outspent his opponent Erin Stewart by a nearly 2-1 margin in his failed bid to return to City Hall, campaign filings show.

According to O’Brien’s financial disclosure statements filed in the Town Clerk’s office on Oct. 28 about a week before the election, the one-term Democratic mayor had raised $110,101, spent $94,802, and had $15,299 in funds on hand.

In comparison, Stewart, a Republican, raised $56,597, spent $42,261, and had $14,336 on hand with days to go before the Nov. 5 election.

“It just goes to show that the power of the people is worth more than any dollar amount,” Stewart said.

O’Brien collected more than $18,000 from organized labor groups, the filings show. The campaign donations that ranged in amounts from $1,500 to $125 from unionized workers and other political action committees began coming in beginning in June. In total, more than a dozen different labor organizations contributed to O’Brien’s campaign. He also collected donations from at least eight people who identified themselves as lobbyists and at least 24 groups or individuals who indicated they had contracts with the city.

Such donors included the law firms of Updike, Kelly, and Spellacy along with firm Pullman and Comley, as well as David Pudlin, a “strategic consultant,” working for the City and a sheet metal workers union.

The filings also show that O’Brien paid The Vinci Group $2,825 for purposes of “fundraising consultants.” The Vinci Group was founded by a Democratic lawmaker from Manchester, Rep. Geoffrey Luxenberg. Last month, state Republican Committee Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. called on Luxenberg to resign from the Capitol over what he called a betrayal of trust due to his work in helping other lawmakers run for reelection.

“At best, Luxenberg’s conduct shows a serious lack of judgment, blatant disregard for ethics regulations, and a deep-seated aversion to transparency. Rep. Luxenberg was elected to represent the best interest of the people of Manchester, not the best interest of his consulting firm and its clients,” Labriola said in a statement issued on Nov. 20.

“These unethical practices, in addition to reports that he may have been involved in attempting to intimidate and take advantage of elderly voters, paint the picture of someone who has a history of poor judgment, unprofessional practices and a habitual disregard for the rules,” Labriola added.

Also used as a consultant was Rick Melita, who listed an address in New Haven. The filings show that Melita was paid $2,000 for his consulting services for O’Brien in September and October. Melita worked for more than a decade with the Connecticut State Employees Association and later worked for Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. Donovan stepped down as speaker earlier this year amid controversy that his campaign manager tried to hide $27,500 in donations made to his campaign for Congress.

In the period running between Oct. 1 and Oct. 27, O’Brien collected $9,089 in contributions from individuals, while Stewart collected $1,270. Among the individuals who donated to Stewart’s campaign were people who identified themselves as lawyers, retirees, a home builder, a restaurant server, small business owners, firefighters, secretaries, city and state workers, one lobbyist, and a Democratic member of the City Council. During that period, Stewart also received a $500 contribution from the state’s Republican Party.

Between September and October, O’Brien paid Total Graphic Solutions, a printing company run by the wife of tax collector candidate Greg Gerratana, $45,870 for lawn signs, a photo shoot, and “seven piece mail campaign literature.” During the same period, Stewart paid $17,492 to a direct mailing company out of Florida for mailings to residents.

Just over $6,000 was also paid out by the O’Brien campaign to various individuals, including residents from Arch, Willow, Pickney, and Prospect streets, for purposes of “canvassing,” a term used to describe direct contact with voters. Each “consultant” was paid $250, while “Grass Roots Strategies, Inc.” of Hartford was paid $3,500.