The Connecticut Democratic Party didn’t wait for the Federal Election Commission to rule on whether it was okay to use federal funds on a mailing featuring Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Instead, it sent the mailing.
The mailing, which arrived at the home of a registered Democrat this week, touts Malloy’s record of investing in education and was paid for using money from the party’s federal account.
“By investing nearly $562 million in education, Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy is improving our schools,” the mailer reads.
The disclaimer at the bottom says it was “Paid for by the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee, www.ctdems.org, and not authorized by any federal candidate or candidate’s committee.”
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party said with conflicting guidance from state and federal regulators “we are forced to proceed based upon our good-faith interpretation of federal law.”
He said the party sought the advice of federal regulators as “an extra quality control step… to ensure we are in compliance with both the letter of the law and its spirit.”
The mailer arrived the same day as the public comment period on the Democratic Party’s request to the FEC closed.
House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero, whose caucus objected to the Democratic Party’s request, was surprised to learn the party took action before receiving guidance from federal regulators.
“The fact that they acted before receiving clarification means they broke the law and the SEEC [State Elections Enforcement Commission] has to take action against the candidate who benefited, in this case the governor, the party, and the treasurer,” Cafero said.
He called the decision to move forward with the mailing “brazen.”
“Not only did they take the bold step of asking, but the brazen step of doing it without even a response,” Cafero said. “If they broke the law they should be subject to fines and penalties.”
State election regulators sharply criticized the Democratic Party Tuesday in their written objection to the request.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission told federal regulators Tuesday that if the Democratic Party was allowed to send this mailing it would “cynically circumvent our state’s carefully tailored pay-to-play state contractor provisions.”
The Connecticut Democratic Party asked the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 1 to allow it to use funds donated to its federal account to pay for a mailer. The deadline for individuals and organizations to object to the request closed Tuesday.
State election regulators said what the Connecticut Democratic Party is essentially trying to do is to get federal election regulators to issue a decision that would allow it to pre-empt Connecticut laws that ban clean election candidates from receiving state contractor donations. Its objection to federal regulators outlines the history of corruption in the state, which led to passage of the Citizens Election Program in 2005.
An attorney for the Connecticut Democratic Party who filed the request with the Federal Election Commission argued that the mailing, which prominently features Malloy, also includes get-out-the-vote information. A portion of federal party funds that can be used for get-out-the-vote efforts.
But state election regulators said it would be wrong for federal regulators to assume they have jurisdiction over the mailing because it “glibly” includes “a stray get-out-the-vote message.”
“The state party is essentially requesting that the Commission issue an advisory opinion stating that Connecticut may not bring an enforcement action against it for choosing to break Connecticut’s campaign finance laws by using state contractor money to pay for the portion of the Malloy mailer that is dedicated to promoting the success of a Connecticut publicly-financed candidate for Governor — an activity that is expressly prohibited by Connecticut state law,” the SEEC wrote in its objection.
The Connecticut Democratic Party uses a footnote in its request to explain that it’s been separating state contractors from non-state contractors in its federal fund.
“Although it is not germane to the proper disposition of this request, it is worth noting that the CDSCC [Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee] has established a segregated federal account in which it deposits contributions from known state contractors. This account is not used for any communication that advocates the election or defeat of any state or local candidate and is used exclusively for federal and administrative purposes in order to ensure compliance with the spirit of Connecticut law.”
But state regulators say they have no way of knowing that.
“It is impossible to know whether the money they are accepting and using is state contractor money forbidden by state law to be used in support of state candidates. If they were going to effectively remove state contractor funds, they would use Levin funds as allowed under federal law,” the SEEC wrote in its objection Tuesday.
According to the Federal Register, the law generally requires the FEC to issue an advisory opinion within 60 days of receiving the request. However, the commission has an informal practice of attempting to respond to certain significant, time-sensitive requests within 30 days. The Connecticut Democratic Party asked for the request to receive expedited treatment, but it’s unclear at the moment whether the commission will agree.