HARTFORD — Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Tuesday she is ending a newsletter from her office that was sent to many of her fellow Democrats, apologizing that the monthly email created an impression she’s using her position for political purposes.
Merrill asked the state auditors to review the project and determine whether state resources were “properly and prudently used” and whether her office complied with all legal requirements.
“I feel terrible that the way that we sent out these newsletters has created the impression that somehow I’m using my office to somehow campaign for a future election,” she said. “That was never the intent. I’m deeply sorry if that’s the impression that has been created.”
The Hartford Courant first reported Merrill used her office to send the newsletter to thousands of Democratic activists and campaign contributors since June. The newsletter highlights activities in the office, new election laws and programs. For example, she said a recent newsletter highlighted a national campaign to register more young people to vote.
Merrill’s predecessor, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, came under fire in 2010 for using a state-funded database compiled by her office to send out thousands of emails in her short-lived campaign for state attorney general. Ultimately, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane found no laws were broken his review of allegations that Bysiewicz used her office to create the database of more than 35,000 voters to help her politically.
Merrill said she was aware of Bysiewicz’s controversy but contends her situation is very different.
Merrill said she came up with the idea for the newsletter earlier this year after being told many people were unaware of office’s activities and accomplishments. She said she decided the newsletter should be sent via email and social media to save money and the initial list of recipients included contacts she has accumulated over her 20 years in politics, including contributors to her 2010 campaign. She said other people who’ve had contact with her office have since been added to the list of recipients.
Peter Lumaj, a declared Republican candidate for Secretary of the State in 2014, recently called the newsletters “a clear and blatant abuse of power” that “served the political interests of Denise Merrill.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, praised Merrill for her decision to cease the newsletter and acknowledge the appearance of a conflict. However, he maintains there is a perception of a “culture of political partisanship” happening in the nonpartisan Secretary of the State’s office.
In 2012, state Republicans took Merrill to court after she denied a request from party leaders to change the order of candidates on the election ballot. The GOP argued that state law required the order to be dictated by the results of the 2010 gubernatorial election and that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was only able to win that year with the results he received as a cross-endorsed Working Families Party candidate. Ultimately, the state Supreme Court sided with the Republicans and GOP candidates appeared at the top of the ballot.