New TV spots target Bob Stefanowski’s record as CEO

A super-PAC funded by the Democratic Governors Association launched a televised campaign Wednesday to remind voters of Republican Bob Stefanowski’s past role as chief executive officer of a payday loan company whose high-interest loans are illegal in Connecticut.

“What do you really know about Bob Stefanowski?” asks a narrator in the opening of a commercial by Stronger CT, a DGA-registered body two weeks ago. “He made millions running a payday loan company that charged working people up to 450% interest.”

With an initial outlay of $408,468, DGA began returning some of the fire directed at Gov. Ned Lamont by the CT Truth PAC, which has spent nearly $1.6 million attacking the Democrat. Another super PAC has put down a $200,000 deposit on a promised $1 million campaign against Lamont.

“I think we’re moving more and more into a campaign season. I see a lot of PAC spending on the other side,” Lamont said. “I think we’re going to be there to talk about what I think is a pretty good track record for the state — where we were four years ago, where we are today and where we want to be in four years.”

Stefanowski, who has not begun to regularly publish a campaign plan, was unavailable, but his campaign was quick to issue a statement that ignored the content of the new ad and stuck to what was a consistent theme of his campaign: Lamont and others Democrats are to blame for inflation.

“We know Ned Lamont is sticking with the same old tired politics, and his friends at big money super PACs will say and do whatever they want to keep him in office,” said Liz Kurantowicz, an aide. “We’re running a different campaign with new ideas as Ned Lamont and the Democrats in Washington, DC take us back to inflation we haven’t seen in 40 years and to the same status quo that families and businesses have in their thousands and costs thousands upon thousands of dollars.”

The US Labor Department reported on Wednesday that inflation hit 9.1% in June, a measure of rising costs over the previous 12 months. The inflation rate in May was 8.6% year-on-year.

Lamont noted that commodity prices have fallen in recent weeks after rising dramatically following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a potential harbinger of lower prices. The Wall Street Journal reported that some retailers are planning deep discounts to de-stock in the event of a recession.

But the governor acknowledged that inflation was pushing consumers beyond their household budgets.

“Inflation hits people,” Lamont said. “All I’m trying to say, look at grain and soybeans and oil and these wholesale prices, they’re down, say, 10% in the last few weeks. That will be reflected. But in the meantime I have to do everything I can to help people. That’s what these tax cuts and rebates were all about.”

At Lamont’s request, lawmakers in late March suspended the state gasoline tax of 25 cents a gallon from April 1 through November 30. The current budget also provides relief, including a $250 child tax credit, a higher property tax credit, lower vehicle taxes in 75 communities, and free bus tickets.

Stefanowski has urged Lamont to use more of the state’s budget surplus for immediate tax breaks instead of paying down debt and setting aside money for a potential recession that could result from the Federal Reserve’s effort to cool the economy with higher interest rates.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in Connecticut was $4.60 on Wednesday, down 16 cents over a week and 38 cents over a month, but still well above the average price of $3.15 last July lies.

There is no threat of a recession in campaign spending.

Stefanowski has deposited $10 million of his own wealth into his campaign account, and his campaign has already spent at least $4.25 million, according to filings this week. He also raised $1.1 million from other donors, including $508,759 in the fiscal quarter ended June 30.

Lamont, who spent $15 million in 2018 and has already personally spent $6.3 million on his re-election, needs little financial support from the DGA. But outside groups have a freer hand in attacks that don’t necessarily backfire on the candidates they’re trying to help.

By law, groups like Stronger CT and CT Truth PAC operate independently of the campaigns and are solely responsible for the content of their ads.

Stronger CT’s funds came from the DGA, whose donors include large corporations and individuals.

Almost all of CT Truth PAC’s money comes from three businessmen. Old Lyme’s David Kelsey and Westport’s Thomas E. McInerney each donated $750,000; Raymond Debbane of Greenwich, an investor and chairman of Weight Watchers, donated $100,000.

Lamont spoke to reporters Wednesday after appearing with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and community leaders on the site of a residential and retail project on the north edge of downtown, a winner of a competitive grant from the State Department of Economic and Community Development.

The governor conducted much of his campaign through daily official events to publicize his administration’s priorities and programs, a benefit of the tenure. The practice is not without risk, as it exposes Lamont to daily questioning by the press.

Stefanowski has yet to share his campaign plan regularly, although he has held at least four press conferences and conducted an extensive interview with CT Mirror since accepting GOP approval in May. He scheduled a press availability for Thursday.

The Stronger CT commercial was largely a repeat of the Democrats’ greatest hits, aimed at Stefanowski in 2018 when he was also the GOP gubernatorial nominee.

Stefanowski’s role as head of a payday loan company, DFC Global, until 2017 was an issue in 2018, as was his proposal to eliminate the state income tax without collecting other taxes. Half of the new commercial is a repeat of arguments Democrats made in 2018: That Stefanowski’s tax plan would crush government services.

“Bob Stefanowski’s extreme record of hurting working families is wrong for Connecticut,” said Sam Newton, DGA’s associate communications director.

Newton also paved a line of attack not included in the current ad: who are the clients that have enabled Stefanowski to more than triple his personal campaign spend compared to his efforts in 2018 when he raised $3 million of his own funds used?

“What else is he hiding?” said Newton.

Stefanowski has promised to release his tax returns, but not necessarily the identities of his clients, some of whom are foreigners. Stefanowski said most if not all of his consulting work is covered by non-disclosure agreements.

The Democratic Governors Association played a minimal role in the open race for Connecticut governor in 2018, but the DGA usually plays a more active role in protecting incumbents.

“I think they support the team,” Lamont said. “And I’m part of the team.”

The governor told reporters after a late-morning public event that he was generally aware something was to come, though not the specifics.

The PAC acted Tuesday to reserve television time, according to public filings with the FCC. She reported her initial expenses to the State Elections Enforcement Commission on Wednesday afternoon.

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