Courtesy of CT-N
Judge Antonio Robaina (Courtesy of CT-N)

A superior court judge ruled against the state Republican Party Thursday when he dismissed its lawsuit to prohibit Democrats from spending their federal campaign funds in support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. 

Judge Antonio Robaina ruled that Republicans lacked standing and had failed to exhaust other remedies before taking the Democrats to court.

“The court has determined that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims because the plaintiff has failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, and it therefore does not reach the issue of the plaintiff’s standing,” he wrote. “Moreover, because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims, it will not address the defendant Dan Malloy for Connecticut’s motion to strike argument.”

Republicans objected to the use of federal campaign dollars for the mailers because state election laws permit companies that do business with the Malloy administration to donate to the federal account. State law prohibits state contractors from donating to a party’s state account, which is traditionally used to support statewide candidates like the governor.

Democrats have maintained that the use of federal election funds was required because the mailer contained small sections on voting information. The party initially asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion on the mailers, but it withdrew its request last week.

“This is the result we expected,” Democratic spokesman Devon Puglia said Thursday of the dismissal.

Republicans have filed similar complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. But the judge’s ruling Thursday to dismiss the complaint guarantees there will be no official opinion on the matter before next week’s election.

Malloy’s Republican opponent Tom Foley said the federal money in the race has a “corrupting influence and one that [former Gov.] Jodi Rell, I was quite proud, eliminated. When I’m governor, I’ll close that loophole.”

Even if the judge had ruled in Republicans’ favor, Foley said it would have likely been too late to change the race.

“I don’t think it really matters at this point because I’m sure they’ve already spent the money. It would have been a ruling with no impact,” he said.

In a statement, Republican Party spokesman Zak Sanders said the judge’s ruling did not absolve Democrats of wrongdoing.

“On the contrary, it says that before being brought to court, the SEEC should investigate and adjudicate this matter – and the SEEC has already confirmed its belief that Dan Malloy and the state Democratic Party have violated state election law,” he said.

During the first hearing on the lawsuit, the state election regulators argued successfully that they should be left out of the proceedings. But the SEEC had previously urged federal regulators to reject the Democrats’ request.

“On behalf of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, we respectfully request that the Commission does not allow the state party to cynically circumvent our state’s carefully tailored pay-to-play state contractor provisions by glibly including a stray get-out-the-vote message in a communication that inarguably promotes a Connecticut candidate, and then contending that the inclusion of a minute phone number and the polling hours transforms the communication into federal election activity outside the jurisdiction of the SEEC,” the commission wrote.

In his ruling, Robaina said Republicans should have first taken their case to the state regulators before filing a lawsuit. He said the SEEC’s previous opinions did not exempt them from that requirement.

The law “does not contemplate a scenario such as that which the plaintiff describes, wherein administrative remedies are exhausted simply by virtue of the fact that the SEEC has made certain statements regarding the legality of hypothetical conduct. The plaintiff’s argument is not persuasive,” he wrote.