Former Bridgeport State Senator Ernie Newton, the self-proclaimed Moses of his peeps, will not be deterred one bit from seeking his old State House seat this year irrespective of a new state law that bans his participation in Connecticut’s voluntary Citizens Election Program of publicly funded races. “Get ready, Newton coming!” he says. Newton says he will raise funds outside of the program. Most political observers agree Newton will require little money for campaign relevance in a district where he has a strong following.

Newton’s planning to challenge incumbent State Rep. Don Clemons in the 124th State Assembly District that covers the East End and runs north above Boston Avenue to the edge of Beardsley Park. Or maybe the bigger question is, will Clemons challenge Newton? Newton’s political alliances appear to hold the cards for the endorsement. Newton himself is a member of the Democratic Town Committee from the East End. Will Clemons cede his seat to Newton without a fight?

Last year the state legislature passed a new law (some refer to it as the “Ernie Newton law”) that prohibits candidates from seeking public campaign grants if the candidate has been convicted of a criminal offense, or served time within an eight-year period prior to seeking state office. The genesis of the bill was Newton’s arrest on state campaign finance charges accusing him of falsifying $500 in campaign donations that triggered an $80,000 grant under the CEP program during his State Senate run in 2012. Newton finished a close second to Andres Ayala. Newton claims state prosecutors are on a witch hunt to get him. Newton is awaiting either a resolution to the charges or a trial that would likely take place after a potential August primary. The general election is in November.

Despite Newton’s current legal challenges and his conviction on federal corruption charges nearly 10 years ago, he remains a popular figure in his East End political base. He decided against another challenge of Ayala in pursuit of the smaller State House district in much friendlier territory. Under the state’s public financing program for State House districts a candidate must raise $5,000 in donations between $5 and $100 to receive a $27,850 grant in a party dominant district. The reality is Newton would require little money to wage a competitive battle in his East End base. As one political operative surmised, “Newton could beat Clemons with $5.”

Political operatives of Mayor Bill Finch are not looking forward to Newton regaining his State House seat, claiming it smears the city’s image. Still, they know the reality of Newton’s following in the East End would make him the favorite to regain the seat. Newton’s reemergence as a player in city politics poses no problem for Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa. Newton recently placed Testa’s name into nomination at the Democratic Town Committee meeting electing Testa to another two-year term as chairman.

Clemons is a former City Council member and retired city firefighter.

See below the legislative language for the “Ernie Newton law.”

Sec. 26. Subsection (a) of section 9-706 of the general statutes is amended by adding subdivision (5) as follows (Effective from passage):

(NEW) (5) Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, no candidate may apply to the State Elections Enforcement Commission for a grant from the fund under the Citizens’ Election Program if such candidate has been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, in a court of competent jurisdiction, any (A) criminal offense under this title unless at least eight years have elapsed from the date of the conviction or plea or the completion of any sentence, whichever date is later, without a subsequent conviction of or plea to another such offense, or (B) a felony related to the individual’s public office, other than an offense under this title in accordance with subparagraph (A) of this subdivision.

Sec. 27. Subsection (b) of section 9-706 of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective from passage):

(b) The application shall include a written certification that:

(1) The candidate committee has received the required amount of qualifying contributions;

(2) The candidate committee has repaid all moneys borrowed on behalf of the campaign, as required by subsection (b) of section 9-710;

(3) The candidate committee has returned any contribution of five dollars or more from an individual who does not include the individual’s name and address with the contribution;

(4) The candidate committee has returned all contributions or portions of contributions that do not meet the criteria for qualifying contributions under section 9-704 and transmitted all excess qualifying contributions to the Citizens’ Election Fund;

(5) The [campaign] treasurer of the candidate committee will: (A) Comply with the provisions of chapters 155 and 157, and (B) maintain and furnish all records required pursuant to chapters 155 and 157 and any regulation adopted pursuant to such chapters;

(6) All moneys received from the Citizens’ Election Fund will be deposited upon receipt into the depository account of the candidate committee;

(7) The [campaign] treasurer of the candidate committee will expend all moneys received from the fund in accordance with the provisions of subsection (g) of section 9-607, as amended by this act, and regulations adopted by the State Elections Enforcement Commission under subsection (e) of this section; [and]

(8) If the candidate withdraws from the campaign, becomes ineligible or dies during the campaign, the candidate committee of the candidate will return to the commission, for deposit in the fund, all moneys received from the fund pursuant to sections 9-700 to 9-716, inclusive, which said candidate committee has not spent as of the date of such occurrence; [. ]

(9) All outstanding civil penalties or forfeitures assessed pursuant to chapters 155 to 157, inclusive, against the current or any former committee of the candidate have been paid, provided (A) in the case of any candidate seeking nomination for or election to the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Comptroller, Secretary of the State or State Treasurer, any such penalty or forfeiture was assessed not later than twenty-four months prior to the submission of an application pursuant to this section; or (B) in the case of any candidate seeking nomination for or election to the office of state senator or state representative, any such penalty or forfeiture was assessed not later than twelve months prior to the submission of an application pursuant to this section;

(10) The treasurer has paid any civil penalties or forfeitures assessed pursuant to chapters 155 to 157, inclusive, and has not been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, in a court of competent jurisdiction, any (A) felony involving fraud, forgery, larceny, embezzlement or bribery, or (B) criminal offense under this title, unless at least eight years have elapsed from the date of the conviction or plea or the completion of any sentence, whichever date is later, without a subsequent conviction of or plea to another such felony or offense;

(11) The candidate has not been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, in a court of competent jurisdiction, a criminal offense under this title unless at least eight years have elapsed from the date of the conviction or plea or the completion of any sentence, whichever date is later, without a subsequent conviction of or plea to another such offense; and

(12) The candidate has never been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, in a court of competent jurisdiction, a felony related to the individual’s public office, other than a criminal offense under this title in accordance with subdivision (11) of this subsection.

 

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