Republicans filed an injunction Friday asking a judge to prohibit the Connecticut Democratic Party from spending money from its federal candidate account to support statewide candidates like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The lawsuit stems from a decision by Democrats to fund a pro-Malloy mailing with money from its federal account, where the law permits state contractors to donate.
The party initially asked federal regulators for guidance permitting the action, which prompted opposition from state regulators, Republicans, and two good government groups. This week, Democrats opted to move ahead with the mailings before federal regulators issued an opinion.
“They want to use prohibited state contractor money to get Dan Malloy elected, so we have no other choice but to resort to this lawsuit here today,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola said Friday outside a civil courthouse in Hartford.
Democrats had defended their request for guidance from the Federal Elections Commission as an effort to clarify conflicts between state and federal law. During a debate Thursday night, Malloy suggested that, in this case, federal law trumps state law.
“When there is a reality that federal law, in certain circumstances, supersedes state law, you have to comply with that law first,” he said. “. . . Right now, we’re in a pretty tight race and we have a third-party candidate who appears to be coming on. And we need to spend money.”
At Friday’s press conference, state Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, called the argument “ridiculous.”
“He’s trying to make it seem as if the federal law requires that this money has to be transferred from the federal account to the state account,” he said. “That’s absurd . . . The governor of the state of Connecticut seems to believe that the laws of the state do not apply to him.”
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he was one of the few legislative Republicans to support the public campaign finance program that Malloy and his Republican opponent, Tom Foley, are participating in this year. The point of the program, he said, was to keep the influence of state contractor money out of statewide elections.
“What the Democrats have done today is say ‘Thank you for the $27 million. Oh, by the way, we’re still going to get the contractor money,’” he said.
In addition to an injunction, Republicans are asking the court to force the governor’s campaign to return the $6.5 million public financing grant. Fasano said Malloy breached the contract of the Citizens Election Program.
“The remedy for breach of an agreement is the return of funds in this type of scenario,” Fasano said.
Through a spokesman, the Democrats have argued that contributions from state contractors are segregated within the party’s federal campaign account and were not spent on the pro-Malloy mailers.
Republicans rejected that argument Friday. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said Democrats only have one federal account.
“All the money goes into one pot. They are playing this, quite frankly, almost embarrassing argument that if they’ve raised a million dollars from contractor money and a million dollars from non-contractor money that this mailer from their federal account comes from the million dollars that’s non-contractor money,” he said.
During the debate Thursday, Malloy said his party was complying with the law.
“We will comply with state law and federal law in accordance with our obligations but we’ll also spend time making sure people understand my record as opposed to Tom’s version of my record,” he said.
The Federal Election Commission’s next meeting is on Oct. 23. It’s unclear if they will take up the Democratic Party’s request for an advisory opinion on the mailer.