Arora Campaign Fined by SEEC for Use of Family LLC and Professional Offices in 2021

While the Nov 8, 2022 mid term elections are a ways off, and the RTC and DTC in Greenwich only elected their officers a few weeks ago, State Rep Harry Arora (R-151) announced his candidacy for State Treasurer on March 23. He formed an exploratory committee back in February. He is not seeking another term as State Rep.

On Thursday, incumbent State Treasurer Shawn Wooden, a Democrat, announced he would not seek another term. While the filing deadline is June 7 and the primary is on Aug 9, Arora is the only candidate to have registered to date. An email from his press contact for the campaign described him as the “front-runner.”

Per the CT State Elections Enforcement Commission’s list of candidate committees that have registered for the Nov 8, 2022 election, in Greenwich, Republican incumbent State Senator Ryan Fazio (36) is the only candidate to have registered in district 36. In district 149 State Rep Kimberly Fiorello has registered. So has Democrat Rachel Khanna. In district 151, Democrat Hector Arzeno has registered to run again.

Arora’s run for State Treasurer will be his fifth campaign. In 2018 he challenged Jim Himes for CT’s 4th Congressional District.

Looking back, Arora defeated Democrat Cheryl Moss in a special election Jan 2020 for the seat vacated by Fred Camillo when he was elected First Selectman. Then, as incumbent, he ran for a full term, defeating Democrat Hector Arzeno in Nov 2020.

More recently he ran in the Aug 17, 2021 special election for State Senate in district 36 but withdrew in July and the RTC went on to endorse Ryan Fazio.

After Arora was re-elected, Lucy von Brachel filed a complaint with the SEEC saying both of Arora’s State Rep campaigns appeared to have violated regulations applying to candidates participating in CEP.

She said that a little over a month prior to the election, RedStrat LLC was registered by Arora’s wife Nisha, then Treasurer of the Greenwich RTC, now a member of Greenwich’s Board of Estimate and Taxation.

The complaint asserted that by forming the LLC in his wife’s name, the campaign ignored rules meant to hold candidates who accept public funding to a high standard.

In response, Mr. Arora described the expenses paid by the LLC as for “legitimate payments made to other entities including Google, USPS etc, through a family-owned entity that did not retain any of the funds.”

Also, per von Brachel’s complaint, candidate Arora used his offices on Greenwich Avenue as campaign headquarters in violation of CEP rules that candidates can not accept in-kind contributions.

Ms von Brachel said RedStrat LLC received payments from the Arora 2020 campaign, as well as the Dan Maymin Committee to Elect for CT 147 and JD Ospina’s A Better Stamford in district 145, all of which shared Treasurer Maxwell Hawkins with the Arora 2021 committee.

The April 6 SEEC vote (watch on Facebook) approved the SEEC enforcement unit staff attorney’s recommended $800 civil penalty for use of the family LLC and office space at 80 Greenwich Ave.

The attorney, James Talbert-Slagle, cited CT General Statutes sections 9-607 and 9-608, as well as the regulations of the CT state agencies related to these two types of expenditures.

“The treasurer, Maxwell Hawkins, has agreed to settle this matter for an $800 civil penalty, and has agreed to comply with sections 9-607 and 9-608, as well as the regulations of the CT state agencies related to these two types of expenditures,” said Talbert-Slagle.

“RedStrat LLC did not receive any profit from those expenditures, but nevertheless it did pay for these expenditures and then was reimbursed,” Talbert-Slagle said.

“That is just something that is not contemplated in the statutes,” he added. “It does represent a violation.”

The complaint also suggested that propane heaters set up at polling places in Jan 2020 were an unreported expenditure, but Talbert-Slagle disagreed, saying, “It was owned by (Arora) personally, so it’s not necessarily a contribution.”

Another part of the complaint was the CT Republican Party had made organization expenditures on behalf of the candidate committee that were not reported properly. Talbert-Slagle dismissed that as “just a reporting problem.”

The SEEC did not investigate the Ospina or Maymim campaigns. Those would have to be raised in a separate complaint.

Responding to news of the violation and fine, Rep Arora described the complaint as politically motivated and frivolous.

“After over a year of review, the commission rejected the allegation that the candidate or his family personally benefited from the campaign,” he said. “The campaign’s treasurer admitted to no fault, but in the spirit of cooperation, committed to strictly adhere to campaign record-keeping obligations in the future.”

“I am fully focused on my candidacy for Connecticut State Treasurer,” he added, going on to thank Mr. Wooden for his service.

“I am prepared and committed to take on the responsibilities of State Treasurer. If elected, I intend to define a long-term financial strategy for Connecticut and work hard to increase the returns of our state pension by improving asset allocation and reducing fees,” Arora continued. “After 25 years in the private sector in finance and investing and two terms as a State Representative, I am ready to serve the people of CT as their next State Treasurer.”

Ms von Brachel suggested Mr. Arora should have known better.

“Representative Arora is running for political office for the fourth time in four years. This year he is running for State Treasurer, a role in which he’d be responsible for managing the integrity of the state’s finances. Yet during his third campaign for public office he violated very basic and well-documented rules of the Citizen’s Election Program, which grants public funds to campaigns to level the playing field and ensure the public trust.”

Ms von Brachel said she hoped Mr. Arora, or any candidate running for State Treasurer, regardless of their party, would hold themselves to the highest standards, acknowledge the seriousness of these violations, and recognize the value of accountability in politics.

“Instead, Rep. Arora has downplayed them,” she added.

“The campaign has yet to clarify why they set up an LLC in Nisha Arora’s name one month before an election to pay vendors the campaign could have simply paid directly, as all other campaigns do,” von Brachel continued. “That two other CEP campaigns in Stamford with the same treasurer paid the same LLC when they, too, could have paid their vendors directly raises a lot of questions and voters deserve answers. No candidate for any office should shy away from transparency.”

DTC chair Joe Angland commented briefly.

“This sounds like a calculated, if unsuccessful, attempt to circumvent SEEC rules,” he said.

Mr. Arzeno commented, “The news of Harry Arora’s election misconduct disappointed me on multiple fronts. Aside from the obvious frustration as his opponent in the election, this is a pall that impugns the reputation of the excellent Citizen Election Program.”

Arzeno said he still didn’t understand why Mrs. Arora set up the LLC in the first place.

“Transparency, a word that Nisha Arora, the Agent of Redstat LLC, uses repeatedly at the Board of Estimated Taxation in Greenwich, is a critical component of the State’s Citizen Election Program, specifically to address efforts to subvert spending limits, and I require transparency and to hear how the payments received in the shell organization were used for, every single one, including the ones from the two political campaign committees from Stamford.”

This story has been updated to reflect that Arora’s 2021 Campaign treasurer Maxwell Hawkins agreed to settle the matter of the complaint for a $800 penalty.