The state Democratic Party is asking the Federal Election Commission to allow it to use funds donated to its federal account to pay for a mailer promoting Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election bid.
Neil Reiff, a lawyer for the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee, asked the FEC on Oct. 1 to “determine whether the attached mailing qualifies as a ‘federal election activity’.”
Reiff even makes it clear from the outset that the mailer isn’t intended to promote any candidates running for federal office.
“For purposes of this request, the Commission should assume that the requested mailings will not reference any candidate for federal offices,” Reiff wrote to the FEC.
The mailer attached to the request shows Malloy reading to a child on the front. It also includes a quote from Malloy.
“While Republicans around the country are forcing debates that belong in the 19th century, Connecticut is leading the nation in making progress for the 21st century. While we have more work to do, we’re on the right path, and we’re moving forward,” the mailer reads.
The back the mailer touts Malloy’s support for an increase in the minimum wage and his support of gun safety laws. It also includes a number for a ride to the polls on Nov. 4.
In his letter to the FEC, Reiff referenced a recent SEEC decision in which state regulators warned they would be closely monitoring the party’s federal account activity.
State election law prohibits state contractors from contributing to state party accounts or statewide candidates. But state contractors are not prohibited from giving money to the party’s federal account, which pays for some administrative costs and federal campaign activities.
Last month, state election regulators were forced to rule that an email solicitation from the head of Northeast Utilities in 2013 didn’t violate Connecticut election law even though it used Malloy’s accomplishments to solicit money for the Democratic Party’s federal account.
The SEEC concluded that it was “offensive and disturbing and violates the spirit and intent of the Connecticut state contractor ban,” but there was nothing in the state law that made the more than $50,000 in contributions illegal.
At the time. SEEC Commissioner Stephen Penny said to direct money that was on its face being raised to support a statewide candidate and deposit that money into the party’s federal account “is an abuse not only of what that federal account is intended for, but clearly seems to be an effort to bypass the workings of the Connecticut finance law.”
He suggested the state legislature take a look at revising Connecticut’s law to prohibit this type of conduct.
However, Reiff argues in his letter to the FEC that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 includes a provision which says “any activities that were undertaken by a state or local party committee that constituted a ‘federal election activity’ must be paid for exclusively with federal funds, or with a combination of federal and non-federal funds provided that several conditions were met.”
In addition, Reiff argues that if federal election regulators make a ruling on the request, it should overrule any action taken by the state Elections Enforcement Commission.
“Federal law is clear on this point,” Reiff wrote in his letter. “Federal courts, as well as the FEC, have consistently determined that the FECA preempts any state law that frustrates the purpose of the federal election laws, as well as interpretations of federal law and regulations of the FEC.”
Earlier this year, state election regulators put the Democratic Party on notice that it was closely watching its fundraising efforts.
In an advisory opinion, state election regulators concluded that “federal law does not create a loophole in the Citizens’ Election Program and other Connecticut campaign finance laws that would allow federal committees to make expenditures that are also contributions regarding Connecticut candidates.”