Democracy Chief: Preserve Campaign Records

Diana Li PhotoWhen Ken Krayeske sent a researcher to the city clerk’s office to find out who dished out money for John DeStefano’s old mayoral campaigns, he found out the records had just been destroyed—legally.

Krayeske, executive director of the city’s clean elections program, the Democracy Fund, made the discovery late last year at the city/town clerk’s office at 200 Orange St. He found out the clerk’s office had just thrown out nine years of campaign finance records, up to 2006.

And he discovered that this was perfectly legal: State law requires clerk’s offices to keep the records for only five years.

Krayeske announced the discovery—and suggested a change in state law and/or city practice to preserve records longer—as he prepares to end his tenure as head of the elections program: In a letter submitted to his board, he announced he will not seek a third, one-year term in the position. He will remain in the position until July 1 or until the board finds a replacement, he said.

Five Years

Krayeske said he went looking for old campaign finance records to analyze the impact of the Democracy Fund on voter turnout. Mayoral candidates who participate in the Democracy Fund agree to swear off committee contributions and individual contributions over $370 in exchange for matching public dollars and public grants.

Krayeske secured the help of Jared Milfred, a Yale undergraduate, to try to digitize historical mayoral campaign finance records for the Democracy Fund, to provide a baseline to which to compare Democracy Fund-based elections.

Milfred showed up at the city/town clerk’s office late last year and asked for old campaign finance forms from former Mayor John DeStefano’s past, Krayeske said. He found out the records were gone.

“I had just destroyed them,” said Sally Brown, the deputy city/town clerk.

It turns out that state law, and the state public library’s retention records guidelines, require city clerk offices to retain those records for only five years.

Melissa Bailey PhotoBrown said she had kept the records for far longer than the required five years. But they were taking up lots of space. Papers from DeStefano’s 20-year mayoralty occupied three drawers’ worth of space, she said. Nobody was coming in to look for them. She wrote to the state to ask for permission to destroy records from 1998 up until (but not including) 2007. She received the OK from the state on July 12, 2012.

Krayeske said he in no way blamed Brown for destroying the files: “She was just doing her job.”

But the incident got him thinking about a policy change, either in state law or in local practice.

“From a public level, we shouldn’t be discarding documents that have this kind of data in it,” Krayeske said. “If the stated purpose” of the Democracy Fund “is to eliminate pay-to-play [politics], shouldn’t we know who’s been paying and playing for more than five years?”

Krayeske said clerks across the state should hold onto these files. He suggested a change in state law prohibiting the destruction of such files. The State Elections Enforcement Commission already has an online database of campaign finance forms for state elections, such as for state legislators and governor, Krayeske noted.

The city/town clerk’s office in New Haven has already been putting more recent campaign finance filings online as well. Krayeske said online storage would enable clerks to keep the records forever, with little storage space. He said he is not speaking for the Democracy Fund board, but rather as a citizen.

Krayeske said raised the idea of changing state law in a recent meeting with state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield.

“I think it’s an idea worth talking about and possibly doing,” Holder-Winfield said Friday. “I do think it’s important to have access to those records.” He said before mandating anything, he’d like to hear from clerks about the cost and logistical challenges of permanent storage.

Holder-Winfield said any such bill “won’t be done this session, unless there’s a bill I don’t know about” This is a short legislative session, stretching from February to May; legislators are supposed only to amend existing bills, not offer anything new.

Meanwhile, Brown said she’d be open to holding onto the records for longer.

“I have no problem” doing that, she said. “Now that we’re scanning, it’d be much easier to retain” them.

Krayeske Moving On

In a letter to his board Thursday, Krayeske announced that he will not seek another term as director of the clean elections program. He said he needs more time to devote to his solo law practice.

“My law practice is too busy. I can’t continue to do everything. I want a life-work balance,” he said by phone.

The Democracy Fund director job pays $70 per hour, with a total annual cap of $25,000. That works out to about 30 hours per month, or 357 hours annually, Krayeske calculated. Krayeske has taken the job seriously. He oversaw the first replenishment of the Democracy Fund budget—an extra $200,000 in taxpayer money—to finance last year’s historic mayoral election, the most exciting in years. He also oversaw the Democracy Fund’s first televised debate.

“I’m proud of what we did,” he said.

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posted by: kenneth_krayeske on March 3, 2014  10:52pm

The Fund Board has not had a chance to draft a policy regarding the retention of documents, since it has barely had a quorum since this issue came to light. As Administrator, I testified in front of the General Assembly’s GAE committee today about Senate Bill 228. This bill seeks to create a pilot program for 20 municipalities to put their municipal records online with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Jared Milfred also testified in front of the GAE committee today in favor of this very same bill.

Thank you to the Independent for the timely news story. SB 228 provides the potential for all 169 towns in the state to store their municipal campaign finance records online with the SEEC. I hope the legislature sees fit to pass this bill.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 5, 2014  11:48am

I hope they pass it to Ken. I recalling going to SEEC trying to find those records, thinking they would have them only to find out they did not. It is a common sense bill. And thank you Ken for fighting for fair elections that all have a chance to be able to run for elections.