(Updated) Tom Foley, the frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial contest, filed this lawsuit against the State Elections Enforcement Commission Friday to stop it from giving his opponent, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele $2.18 million in public campaign funds.
Hartford Superior Court Judge Grant Miller did not grant the Foley campaign’s request for an injunction, but Fedele’s campaign has promised not to spend the money until after Monday’s hearing.
Standing in the lobby of Hartford Superior Court, Justin Clark, Foley’s campaign manager, said there are three reasons the campaign filed the lawsuit.
First, it doesn’t believe the new clean election law allows anyone who is not an endorsed candidate to team up with another candidate to qualify for the public funds. Fedele, who was not endorsed at the convention, teamed up with the endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, to reach the $250,000 qualifying threshold.
Second, it allowed Boughton donors to contribute to Fedele, essentially allowing one person to contribute $200. Under the new law only contributions of less than $100 are counted toward a candidates’ qualifying contributions. Clark estimates there is about $24,000 in donations that fall under this category and shouldn’t qualify toward the threshold.
Finally, Clark said the SEEC is not holding up the law when it comes to independent expenditures. The only money in Foley’s campaign account which could trigger an additional supplemental grant to Fedele would be donations received after the convention. He said the campaign hasn’t reached the 90 percent expenditure amount, which would trigger the additional funds for Fedele.
When it granted Fedele the $937,500 supplemental grant on Thursday, the commission relied on Foley’s last campaign finance accounting, which was filed prior to the convention, Clark said.
It’s no secret Foley, who has already contributed $2 million to his campaign, is not a fan of publicly financed elections.
“Tom is taking a strong position on this because it doesn’t make sense to say the first thing you’ll do is cut the budget, right after you take $8 million in taxpayer dollars,” Clark said.
Another hearing on the matter is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
“We believe the complaint is baseless,” Cooper said. “It’s politically motivated.”
Foley is trying to “divert attention from his past arrests and business failures,” Cooper said.
The SEEC was not immediately available for comment.
But Beth Rotman, executive director of the Citizens’ Election Program, said Wednesday that there were a lot of questions from candidates about filing jointly so the commission released an advisory ruling June 3 specifically addressing the issue. She said that when the ruling was made, it was sent to each campaign.
“When the Governor candidate and Lieutenant Governor candidate are each participating in the CEP, the two candidates may choose to “campaign jointly” and be funded by a joint gubernatorial committee during the primary campaign period,” the advisory ruling reads. “Once a SEEC Form CEP 18 is filed indicating that a participating lieutenant governor candidate and a participating governor candidate are campaigning jointly, the governor’s candidate committee can make expenditures promoting both the governor and lieutenant governor candidates.”
Rotman said that if the Foley campaign didn’t like the ruling, it could have filed a request for a declaratory ruling and the commission would have reconsidered it. She said the Foley campaign decided not to do that.
Stephen Cashman, chairman of the SEEC, said on Thursday that Foley’s July 6 request for the legal opinion gave him pause in considering the Fedele-Boughton application.
“I had reservations about the necessity of moving forward given the concerns,” Cashman said at Thursday’s meeting. But after discussions, he said he was “satisfied with the advisory opinion as written which contemplates this procedure.”
He also said he gives credit to the Fedele-Boughton campaign for relying on the advisory opinion in order to file their application.
According to Rotman, the Fedele campaign brought in an estimated $220,000 and the Boughton campaign brought in about $40,000, which combined put it over the $250,000 benchmark for the qualifying grant. A supplemental grant of $937,500 also was given to the campaign because Foley’s April filing showed he had already raised $2.4 million.
Supporters of the clean elections law responded to the lawsuit with disgust.
“Maybe Tom Foley believes that his Baghdad- styled bullying can help him buy a governorship like it did for his ambassadorship, but we are confident that the voters of Connecticut will be repulsed when they are reminded of his governance of Iraq and reject this type of Bush League maneuver to silence his opposition,” Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said.
The law was passed in response to a series of corruption scandals in the state. It sought to get special interest spending out of politics.