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Wednesday, November 14 News

Fairfield state senator in hot water over copyrighted artwork on campaign signs

FAIRFIELD — Signs for his candidacy, and that of fellow Republicans, are plastered in front of state Sen. Tony Hwang’s real estate office on Sanford Street.

But some of Hwang’s signs include the copyrighted artwork of the nonprofit group, Hate Has No Home Here, in violation of the group’s rules of usage. Hwang, who represents the 28th District, is seeking re-election to the state Senate.

“I will remove the signs and any references,” Hwang said Tuesday afternoon. “It was not intentional.”

Hwang said he wanted to get out the important message of the groups Hate Has No Home Here and Ben’s Bell, which has a logo reading “Be Kind.” Hwang apologized for any hardship he created for either group.

As of Wednesday morning, the offending signs had been removed from in front of Hwang’s headquarters. Photographs remained on his website.

“I will take immediate action,” Hwang said, adding he had already spoken with the director of Ben’s Bells. Ben’s Bells “Be Kind” logo appears on some Hwang T-shirts.

Carmen Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Chicago-based Hate Has No Home Here group, said they have been in contact with Hwang’s campaign.

In a statement, Rodriguez said, “The campaign has already been informed based on a prior notice, they have responded, and we are working on a solution that permits Mr. Hwang to express his support for our project without affiliation or attribution to his campaign. As you may know, .... The Hate Has No Home Here project is not affiliated with any campaign, party, candidate, or ideology and we work hard to ensure our project participants are aware of and respect our guidelines.”

Hwang’s campaign website has photos showing tee shirts for his volunteers with the “Be Kind” logo. A 501C-3 group, Ben’s Bell is not allowed to make political endorsements.

“We are encouraged when anyone is inspired by the work we do at Ben's Bells but we can't, and we don't, participate in political campaigns or endorse any political candidates,” Executive Director Jeannette Mare said. “We spoke with Senator Hwang last week about this issue. He was completely understanding and agreed to discontinue using our logo on his materials.”

The Hate Has No Home Here artwork was donated by the artist and can be downloaded for use according to the guidelines, which include that it not be altered in any way and that it is non-partisan and not to be affiliated with any political party, candidate or political organization.

Hwang’s signs use part of the group’s artwork on his own Hwang for Senate signs. He said it was just a small run of signs — about 20. “None of it has gone out,” he said. “I’ve only been using it locally.” Some of those signs could be found Tuesday morning in front of his headquarters, while photos of both the signs and the tee shirts could be found on his website and Instagram account.

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Steven Sheinberg, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said the use of the copyrighted material calls into “serious question” Hwang’s judgment and ethics. He said Hwang’s use of the material could cause the groups to lose their tax-exempt status.

“That is reckless and irresponsible,” Sheinberg said. “Furthermore, it is difficult to comprehend how Senator Hwang thought using these logos in his campaign material was permitted.”

After serving on the Representative Town Meeting, Hwang was elected as a state representative to the 134th District in 2008. He was first elected to the state Senate in 2014.

In December of 2017, Hwang’s exploratory campaign for governor was found to be non-compliant with campaign financial disclosure statements and had to issue a payment for undocumented expenses. In 2016, Hwang was fined $400 by the State Elections Enforcement Commission for campaign contribution limit violations.

But James Millington, Sheinberg’s counterpart in the GOP, didn’t see an issue with Hwang’s use of the material.

“I think that message is one we all agree with,” Millington said. “Politics on both sides of the aisle have become very nasty over the past few years.”

He said issues need to be addressed and people need to be kinder to each other when they disagree. “Tony is setting a positive tone and all our local Republican candidates plan on running positive, issue-focused campaigns,” Millington said.

Hwang said that perhaps all the attention will prompt others to visit the organizations’ websites.

“In my positive and affirming exchanges with both organizations, I reiterated my continuous support of their mission and more importantly, practice of their aspirational message,” Hwang said. He said he has been an advocate for both groups in past years and “will continue to champion their cause into the future.”

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-842-2585

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