State election regulators have denied a motion from the Democratic Party seeking an early ruling on whether one of their election mailers was improperly paid for last year.
Last month, election regulators issued an investigatory subpoena as they looked into Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr.’s complaint that the Democrats broke state election law by using their federal campaign account to pay for a mailer featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The mailer featured Malloy, but it also included information about how voters could get to the polls on Election Day. It’s the latter part that the Democrats cite as the reason it was okay to send the mailer using its federal account, because they contend that federal law allows for mailers that include get-out-the-vote messages. The federal law interprets those messages as being protected by the 1st Amendment.
The Democratic Party further argues that it segregated funds within its federal account, suggesting that no state contractor funds were used to fund the mailing.
On March 4, the Democratic Party asked state regulators for a declaratory ruling to find out whether the regulators thought state law trumped federal law on the issue. But the State Elections Enforcement Commission told attorneys for the Democratic Party last week that they will have to wait until the investigation is completed for an answer to that question.
It’s a question that could have been answered last October if only the Democratic Party had waited for the Federal Elections Commission to act upon their own petition seeking guidance on the same mailing — but the Democrats withdrew their petition before the FEC could answer it.
Now the party is asking state regulators the same question about whether state law pre-empts federal election law. State regulators told the party last week that they weren’t going to give them an answer until after they finish their investigation.
“That will be addressed and adjudicated as part of the on-going administrative enforcement proceeding with all relevant parties’ participation and in light of the facts and circumstances revealed during the investigatory phase of the on-going administrative proceeding,” state regulators told the Democratic Party’s attorneys.
“Because there is an on-going administrative enforcement proceeding begun, the SEEC will address the relevant issues within that action,” the commission wrote in its resolution denying the request for a declaratory judgment.
Previous statements by state election regulations suggest they may not be sympathetic to the Democrats’ on this issue. In October, they told the Federal Elections Commission that the mailer featuring Malloy would “cynically circumvent our state’s carefully tailored pay-to-play state contractor provisions.”
In their comment to the FEC, state regulators said that 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.
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 to the Federal Election Commission.
The Republican Party filed a lawsuit to block the mailers from being sent prior to the election, but the judge determined they didn’t have standing.