Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has called on Gov. M. Jodi Rell and lawmakers to enact legislation restoring at least $104,000 — and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars more — improperly diverted from state specialty license plate programs for animal population control, wildlife conservation and greenways.
Blumenthal in October issued an opinion ruling that the state’s transfer of similar Long Island Sound specialty license plate funds to the General Fund violated charities laws, which require donations be used in accordance with contributors’ wishes. Shortly afterwards, the General Assembly voted to rescind the transfer and restore the Long Island Sound license plate moneys.
The state, however, never took similar action to return possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally taken from similar animal population control, wildlife conservation and greenways license plate funds.
The illegal amount transferred may be much bigger because the $104,000 estimate includes only funds collected last year. The funds may have contained unspent license plate moneys from previous years, as well as charitable donations separate from the specialty plates, Blumenthal said. He called for an immediate audit to determine how much must be returned to the funds.
Having established that at least $104,000 must be restored, Blumenthal called on Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders to return the funds.
Blumenthal said, “Knowing that at least $104,000 has been illegally transferred and must be restored, an immediate audit is absolutely imperative legally and ethically to establish how many more donated dollars must be returned. The constitution mandates that donor intent must be followed, regardless of the dollar amount. The final dollar amount may be much larger than $104,000, perhaps several hundred thousand dollars or more.”
Blumenthal said in a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders, “I am writing to urge swift legislative action restoring charitable funds taken from the Animal Population Control account, the Greenways account and the Wildlife Conservation account of the Conservation Fund during the 2009 General Assembly session and placed in the state’s General Fund.
“Some of these funds were derived from sales of special motor vehicle license plates involving additional fees explicitly depicted by the state as charitable donations for animal population control, greenways, and wildlife conservation. In addition, some moneys may have been separate, specific private charitable donations. These charitable funds cannot be legally used for any activity other than the contributor’s specific purpose.
“Similar monies for the Long Island Sound Fund were restored through legislative action after I issued an October 1, 2009 formal legal opinion stating that transferring such funds would violate charitable donor intent and would be illegal. While this legal opinion applies equally to the Animal Population Control, Greenways and Wildlife Conservation funds, funds were not restored. Constitutionally, they must be restored, and legislative action may be the clearest means of doing so.”
According to the Rell administration, the improper transfers include about $20,000 from the animal population control fund; $65,000 from the Wildlife Conservation account and $19,870 from the Greenways account for a total of at least $104,870.
The legislature eliminated the Wildlife Conservation and Greenways Funds last year. Any charitable funds remaining in the accounts, however, must still be used for their stated purposes, Blumenthal said.