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Thursday, December 29, 2011

2010 Dickinson dinner would have been illegal

State agency issues ruling on canceled event

As published in the Record Journal, Monday December 19, 2011

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — The State Elections Enforcement Commission has ruled that a $40-per-ticket dinner planned for February 2010 in honor of Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. would have been a violation of state election laws, but because the event was ultimately canceled, no action will be taken.

In a decision dated Dec. 14, commission Chairman Stephen F. Cashman wrote that “as planned, the event, had it occurred, would have violated General Statute 9-609(b) as a ‘testimonial event.’ ” Because the event was ultimately postponed indefinitely, the commission ruled that no laws had been violated.

According to state statute: “No testimonial affair shall be held for a candidate, or for an individual who holds any such office during the term of such office, except to raise funds on his behalf for purposes authorized in this chapter. A testimonial affair which is held by an organization duly organized for charitable purposes shall be exempt from the provisions of this chapter.”

The issue was brought to the SEEC by Democratic Town Committee Chairman Vincent Avallone, who said Tuesday, “The Republican Party should be grateful to me for filing the complaint because they would have been guilty of breaking the law if they held the party.” Avallone said that, before he filed the complaint, he sent a copy of the statute to Republican Town Committee Chairman Robert Prentice as a courtesy.

Prentice could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Dickinson said Tuesday he was aware of the decision, and that while he understood the rationale for the state’s wanting to keep track of money raised, he questioned its ability to say who can and cannot hold a social function.

“To say people can’t plan an event, there are bigger issues there,” he said. “You can tell people what they need to do with the money, but to tell them an event can’t be held seems to be overreaching.”

The statute was amended in the past legislative session to allow testimonials to raise money for “party committees” as of January 2012, but Cashman wrote, “The event planned for February of 2010, however, preceded this change in the law, so the law as previously written would apply to the testimonial that was the subject of this complaint.”

The event was scheduled to be held at Villa Capri on North Colony Road and was to include a buffet dinner , music by the Johnny Bass Band, speeches and dancing.

Republican organizers of the event said the money was to go the Wallingford Center for the Arts. Mary Ellen Kingsland-Eckels, director of the Wallingford Center for the Arts, has said that organizers of the event had contacted the organization about receiving profits from the dinner, but that the organization was still in the process of obtaining nonprofit status and would not have been eligible to receive the funds.

Republican Councilor Rosemary Rascati, who helped organize the aborted event, said she wasn’t aware of the recent SEEC ruling, but said the event had been canceled because organizers hadn’t gotten a clear answer as to its legality.

“We made the decision since we did not get an answer,” she said. “We thought it was best to cancel the party and return the money.”

Rascati said they had offers from other charitable organizations to participate in the event, “but we thought the best thing was to cancel it.”

Avallone said Tuesday that his decision to file a complaint was based on his belief that the mayor and his supporters should abide by the law as written.

“The purpose of the complaint was to emphasize the fact that no one is above the law, not even a sitting mayor in office for 28 years,” he said.

The complaint was originally filed Jan. 26, 2010, and Avallone said that he didn’t receive the ruling until Monday.

Rascati said there are no plans for any other events to honor Dickinson while he remains in office. “If and when [the mayor] retires, and we’re still around, we’ll have a party,” she said.

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