U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall sided with state election regulators Tuesday and denied the Democratic Governors Association’s preliminary challenge of the state’s campaign finance laws.
In a 42-page decision released Tuesday, Hall determined that the organization — which wants to spend money on behalf of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election campaign — lacked standing to challenge part of the law related to coordination. She also didn’t believe the DGA would prevail in its challenge of the definition of an expenditure, however, she left room for it to continue that challenge.
The DGA filed the lawsuit against the State Elections Enforcement Commission in April because it feared that election regulators would determine that its involvement on behalf of Malloy would be considered “illegal.”
But Hall sided with the state and concluded that the DGA’s fear the state would accuse it of illegal coordination with the Malloy campaign was unfounded since the law was not based solely on the statutory scheme.
“Neither a plain reading of section 9-601c(c) nor the SEEC’s construction of the statute can support DGA’s theories of standing for its challenge to section 9-601c(c),” Hall wrote.
“The SEEC cannot presume participation by a candidate or an agent of the candidate in an event sponsored by the entity to be evidence of coordination, unless the event promotes the success of the candidate’s candidacy or the defeat of the candidate’s opponent,” she concluded. “If the event promotes the success of the candidate’s candidacy or the defeat of the candidate’s opponent, then the SEEC may, but is not required to, consider the candidate’s, or his or her agent’s, participation as evidence of coordination.”
Hall denied the DGA’s motion for a preliminary injunction because it couldn’t prove immediate harm.
The two questions the DGA asked election regulators before filing the lawsuit were whether a candidate’s non-earmarked fundraising activity for an entity that makes “covered transfers” would be a basis to find coordination between the candidate and the entity, and whether it would be required to register as a political committee under Connecticut law.
In its original complaint, the DGA said the state’s overbroad definition of “expenditure” has chilled its First Amendment rights by deterring it from sponsoring issue advocacy communications. The state argued that without showing its planned communications, it’s simply a hypothetical. The DGA worries it would have to register as a Political Action Committee if it decided to do issue advocacy, instead of campaigning for or against a candidate.
“In recognition of the need for, and wisdom of, judicial restraint in facial challenges such as this one, the court cannot conclude that DGA has clearly established the likelihood that it will prevail on the merits in demonstrating that section 9-601b(a)(2) is overbroad, in either the class of speech it reaches or in the form of disclosure that is imposed upon certain categories of this speech,” Hall concluded.
Last month, the two sides spent three hours in court and several more hours outside of court unsuccessfully trying to find agreement.
“The case has appeared at times to be a moving (or perhaps evolving) target, which has made an area of law — one that appears to have challenged courts encountering it — all the more difficult,” Hall wrote in her decision.
Good government groups, who filed friend of the court briefs in the case, believe the ruling is a victory for the state’s clean election laws.
“We are very pleased that Judge Hall rejected the DGA’s efforts to undermine the campaign finance reforms Governor Malloy signed into law last year,” Larry Noble, of the Campaign Legal Center, said Tuesday. “The decision stops the DGA from moving much of its spending for Governor Malloy’s re-election into the shadows and allows the SEEC to ensure that the DGA’s support for the governor’s candidacy is truly independent of the governor’s campaign, as the law requires. This is a victory for the people of Connecticut.”
The Republican Party had also filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of the SEEC, but has been largely ignored and left out of the discussions between the DGA, state, and the court.