Third-party candidates, lobbyists, and the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union challenged Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance law in U.S. District Court Thursday when they filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the state Elections Enforcement Commission and Attorney General. The new legislation passed in December 2005 and amended this past June establishes a system of public financing for state campaigns, including campaigns of Constitutional Officers and members of the General Assembly. While most of the law doesn’t actually go into effect until 2008, some of the plaintiff’s will be affected by a portion of it that goes into effect Dec. 31, 2006.
The lawsuit claims the law is unconstitutional because it effectively excludes minor party and petitioning candidates from the electoral process.“In order for the public financing of campaigns to be fair, funds must be equally available in equal amounts to all qualified candidates who are able to objectively demonstrate support for their candidacies,” Renee Redman, CCLU legal director and co-counsel in the lawsuit, said in a press release Thursday. According to the lawsuit minor party candidates whose party garnered less than 10 percent of the vote in the prior election are ineligible for receipt of public financing. Also, minor party candidates who received 10 percent or more only qualify if they are able to meet the unrealistic burden of raising thousands of dollars in qualifying contributions. Mike DeRosa, a Green Party candidate and plaintiff in the case, said in a press release, “The Connecticut legislators who drafted this law in the dead of night knew that they were creating a system that would perpetuate two classes of political parties that are separate and unequal.” “We consider this law an act of blatant discrimination against third party and independent candidacies” DeRosa, who is running for Secretary of the State, said. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal disputed those claims in his press release Friday. “This law is fully constitutional and we will vigorously defend it in court,” he said. “The legislature rightfully believed that public financing was critical to eliminating abuses in the present system – and these public policy goals are entitled to respect. Minor party candidates continue to have access to public funding if they meet the threshold established by the legislature.” In addition the lawsuit claims the new law violates the First Amendment’s speech and association clauses with its absolute ban on political contributions by communicator lobbyists, state contractors, and their immediate family members. Betty Gallo, the lobbyist who heads Betty Gallo and Co., said the new law would restrict her from giving “a $25 contribution to a friend running for office.” “The prohibition on contributions by communicator lobbyists is written broadly enough to reach advocacy organizations and individuals who work for advocacy organizations even though the primary mission of that organization or individual is not lobbying,” the lawsuit claims. This portion of the law goes into effect Dec.31, 2006. The lawsuit requests the court to declare the challenged sections of law unconstitutional and issue “permanent injunctive relief barring Defendants from enforcing the challenged statutes, in whole or in part.” Click here to see a copy of the lawsuit. CTNewsjunkie will update the story as phone calls are returned.