This article has been updated to include quotes from Joanna Swomley, Sandy Litvack, Cheryl Moss and DTC chair Joe Angland.
This article has been updated to correct the name of former CT Republican chair is “JR Romano“
A complaint has been filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission alleging misuse of public campaign funds by State Rep Harry Arora (R-151) and his campaign.
Additional respondents include John Salib who was Treasurer of Arora’s Jan 21, 2020 special election candidate committee; Maxwell Hawkins who served as Treasurer for Arora’s November 3, 2020 candidate committee; former CT Republican Party Chair JR Romano; and Warner Pine, CT Republican Party Treasurer.
Dated February 8, 2021, the complaint was made by Lucy von Brachel of Greenwich, an RTM member from District 4 who serves as the District 4 leader for Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.
On March 3, the SEEC voted to investigate Ms von Brachel’s complaint.
Ms von Brachel asserts Arora and his campaign ignored rules meant to hold candidates who accept public funding to a high standard.
“Harry Arora showed a blatant disregard for the law by flouting those requirements for his own political gain,” von Brachel wrote in a statement provided to the press, adding that the alleged misuse of public funds gave him a financial advantage in two elections.
Arora won in a special election against Democratic candidate Cheryl Moss on Jan 21, 2020 for State Rep District 151 to take the seat vacated by Fred Camillo after he was elected Greenwich First Selectman.
This past November, Arora won a full term in a race against Greenwich Democrat Hector Arzeno.
According to von Brachel’s complaint, both campaign committees violated multiple regulations applying to candidates accepting public funding, including making payments to a family member’s business, reporting a reimbursement to a family member for services provided by the family member, failure to report expenditures relating to the use of the candidate’s business office as a campaign office, impermissible coordinated expenditures on the candidate’s behalf made by the CT Republican Party and failure to report certain expenditures.
Ms von Brachel said since a candidate accepting public campaign funding cannot pay a family member, or a business owned by a family member, Arora acted in “blatant disregard for this regulation,” when a business, Redstrat, LLC, was registered just one month before the November 2020 election in the name Mr. Arora’s wife, Nisha.
Reached by email Thursday, Mr. Arora said, “This administrative complaint was filed by a political adversary.”
“The expenses mentioned in the complaint are all for legitimate payments made to other entities including Google, USPS etc. through a family-owned entity that did not retain any of the funds,” he added. “To the extent this needs to be clarified in the fillings, our campaign Treasurer will work with the SEEC to do so.”
Dan Quigley, Greenwich RTC chair, also shared a comment.
“This is nothing but a meritless attack on Representative Arora by far left local (Lucy von Brachel) and the far left Democrat PAC, ‘Greenwich Voices For Democracy.’ This is also an extension of the charged, hysterical and poisonous dialogue promoted in our town by Joanna Swomley, Sandy Litvak, Cheryl Moss and other left of center elements who have made our local, political dialogue so toxic,” Quigley said.
“The work he has done and is doing on helping our community with vaccinations, unemployment claims, department of labor issues and working one-on-one with so many to make sure their government is working for them,” Quigley continued. “While Rep Arora is helping our community through one of the great challenges of modern times, Democrats are spending their time fabricating false narratives because their track record of running our state is an abysmal failure.”
Indivisible Greenwich founder Joanna Swomely responded to Quigley’s quote, saying, “Serious allegations have been alleged against Rep Arora. The individual who filed them is one of the most fact-driven, hard working individuals in Town. It is disappointing that the RTC Chair’s reaction is not concern about the charges, but instead an attempt to divert attention through invective and ad hominem attacks on the filer, and individuals who had nothing to do with the SEEC filing. It is very Trumpian– accuse others of what you are doing and may be part of the reason Republicans are fleeing the party in Greenwich and elsewhere. The RTC chair would be well advised to focus on the merits of the serious allegations against Rep Arora.”
Mr. Litvack also commented, saying, “Quigley’s intemperate, unfounded personal attacks are not worthy of the head of a responsible, serious political party. They are however, straight out of the Trump playbook – engage in personal attacks that have nothing to do with the issues but hopefully divert attention.”
Livtack said neither he nor the Greenwich Voices for Democracy had anything to do with or were even aware of the SEEC complaint.
Cheryl Moss, the Democratic candidate in the Jan 21, 2020 special election said, in an email, “The investigation into Mr. Arora is quite serious. My campaign took great care in meeting all SEEC requirements as we were aware that we were spending tax payer money, not our own. Lucy Von Brachels’ work on my campaign was stellar, and I thank her for her dedication to ensuring that everyone respects the use of CEP funds, which when flouted give an unfair advantage.”
“As for the RTC chair’s comments,” Moss continued. “I will only say ‘hysterical’? Um, Mr. Quigley, this is 2021. Would you like to add ‘screaming banshee’? Yawn.”
DTC chair Joe Angland commented, “The facts alleged in the complaint suggest there were serious violations. Mr. Arora is certainly entitled to explain why he does not believe any rules were violated, and the Commission will make its ruling. Mr. Quigley’s lamenting that the complaint was filed by a ‘far left’ Town resident (who in fact is a highly respected member of the RTM) is both irrelevant and unbecoming. If Mr. Arora violated the rules he should be held to account by SEEC, and it matters not who brought the facts to SEEC’s attention. Does Mr. Quigley believe that only far right citizens may ask that laws be enforced and that candidates who have used public money to run their campaigns be held to the obligations they assumed when they accepted that money?”
In her complaint Ms von Brachel, said Redstrat, LLC was paid $12,182 by the campaign, which is 40% of the $30,575 grant provided by the state.
“In total, Redstrat LLC raked in more than $55,000 over a one-month period from three CEP-funded candidate campaigns all using the same treasurer,” von Brachel said.
Further, von Brachel alleges that according to the campaign’s SEEC filings, Nisha Arora was paid $2,889 in reimbursements for expenses Mrs. Arora herself provided, or for which secondary payees should have been reported.
Going back to the January 2020 special election, von Brachel said Arora benefited from $7,610 in funds the CT Republican Party spent on mailings, and that filings indicated that these were coordinated expenditures for which reimbursement would be sought. She notes CEP-participating candidates cannot accept contributions like this and there is no evidence that Arora’s campaign reimbursed the state party.
She said the violations amounted to approximately $22,000 of public funds, a substantial portion of grants the campaign received.
“If he and his campaign knowingly violated state election laws, I would expect Mr. Arora to resign his seat in the state house. We need to know that our elected officials will put their community’s best interests ahead of their own self-interest,” von Brachel added.
This is not the first controversy involving Mr. Arora.
Recently Mr. Arora, who is is ranking member of the House Labor Committee, piqued the ire of committee members and people testifying on a range of proposed legislation during a 12-hour hearing on Feb 9 when about 100 people had signed up to testify.
Committee co-chair, State Rep Robyn Porter of New Haven, who chaired the meeting, repeatedly issued reminders that the event was a public hearing and not a committee meeting.
She asked Mr. Arora not to debate with witnesses, but rather listen and ask concise questions. She repeatedly reminded the committee to be mindful of time.
After about 10 hours of testimony and lengthy questioning about legislation concerning cannabis, hair discrimination and salary transparency, mostly from Rep Arora, and with 40 people still waiting to testify, Eric Gjede, a business lobbyist from CBIA testified for 3 minutes.
As Mr. Arora began to question Mr. Gjede, Rep Porter told him to hold his questions.
“I know it’s coincidental of course that the debate is being limited when it’s my turn,” Gjede said. “I would like the opportunity at some point in time to be able to address the committee’s questions. We represent thousands of businesses across Connecticut and they deserve to have their shot in this committee.”
“I object,” Mr. Arora said, adding that he wanted to ask Mr. Gjede questions. “Madam chair, I think you’re bullying me.”
Afterward, a petition on MoveOn.org was created to seek Arora’s resignation or removal from the Labor committee, citing unprofessional behavior.
The petition states:
“During the State of Connecticut Labor and Public Employee Committee Public Hearing session on Tuesday 9th, 2021, it was evident that Representative Harry Arora’s purpose was to dissuade public participation, disrespect women, dehumanize black and brown people, support oppression and deny women and black and brown people an opportunity to actively participate in democracy. He was clearly supportive of white males and his constituents.”
The petition demands a public apology to participants, Representative Robyn Porter, and an opportunity to those who were unable to testify today or would like an opportunity to testify again without intimidation be given.
Also, back in 2020, Mr. Arora caused a stir by declining to participate in a LWV debate, which is a tradition in Greenwich and byeond.
Arora cited the fact that the moderator, Kay Maxwell, would not issue a statement indicating she was a registered Democrat.
“The Arora campaign has rejected the League’s choice of Moderator and has insisted upon unacceptable conditions requiring the publication of her political affiliation,” the LWV said in a release at the time, adding, “The League will not allow any candidate to determine the qualifications of the Moderator. The political affiliation of the Moderator is irrelevant to the capacity of the Moderator to be impartial. To think otherwise is an unfortunate conclusion of a polarized political climate.”
The debate was not to be.
However, Mr. Arora did participate in a LWV forum moderated by Ms Maxwell on October 2020 during the campaign for the November 3, 2020 election.
January 15, 2020