When legislators return to the state Capitol next week, one state official hopes they will rewrite a portion of the state’s public campaign finance law that was struck down by a federal judge last month.
The state official—Elections Enforcement Executive Director Jeffrey Garfield—called Friday for fast action.
“The legislature needs to act immediately; either by amending the reversion clause as we proposed in the budget implementation bill, or by calling an immediate special session to consider a permanent fix to the campaign finance reform legislation,” Garfield said.
But Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said she doesn’t see any changes being made next week when the legislature returns to finish the budget implementation bill.
“It’s a major program,” Slossberg said. “It needs to be done slowly and methodically with public debate.”
Slossberg said the reversion clause that will take the fundraising system back to the way it was before 2005 isn’t even triggered until April and only if there’s still a lawsuit pending.
However, Garfield believes that waiting will only increase “uncertainty for candidates, many of whom plan to participate and are already raising contributions, and others whose decision to run hinges on the continued existence of the program. Either way, we cannot afford to wait.”
Slossberg, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s General Administration and Elections Committee, said she would prefer to wait a few months and hold a special session to address the issue. She said the budget implementers are generally done behind closed doors and “this can’t be a backroom deal.”
“If the legislature makes any changes at all, it has to be in the public domain,” she said.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has appealed U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill’s Aug. 27 decision to the 2nd Circuit Court in New York.
In his 138-page decision, Underhill found that the new system imposes an unfair burden for minor party candidates seeking to qualify for matching campaign funds through a state grant program.
The Citizens Election Program “imposes an unconstitutional, discriminatory burden on minor party candidates’ First Amendment-protected right to political opportunity,” Underhill wrote.
Officials close to the case estimate a decision from the Appellate Court could come as soon as January or February.
The ACLU, who represent the two minor parties involved in the lawsuit, wrote this letter to legislative leaders earlier this week.
“To save publicly financed elections and the unnecessary public expense of the appeal, this legislature can act immediately to fix the constitutional defects in CEP,” Andrew Schneider, executive director of the Connecticut ACLU, wrote.
He said Judge Underhill provided legislators with a blueprint to fix the law in his decision.
“In arriving at his decision to declare CEP’s unequal requirements for minor and
major party candidates unconstitutional, Judge Underhill reviewed campaign finance
reform laws and experience in Maine and Arizona, where public financing schemes
Operate ‘on a party-neutral basis -meaning major party and minor party candidates are subject to identical qualifying criteria’,” Schneider wrote. “Significantly, the Maine act with its party neutral criteria survived constitutional scrutiny in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.”
While he didn’t give a timeline, Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said Thursday that the legislature “absolutely should address Judge Underhill’s decision.”
“Clearly we have an obligation to fix the law,” McKinney said. “I expect the decision to be upheld by the Second Circuit.”