The Connecticut Democratic Party on Wednesday appealed to Superior Court a State Election Enforcement Commission decision to dismiss its request for a ruling on how state and federal campaign finance laws co-exist.
The request for the ruling came as part of discussions over a complaint filed by Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr., which alleges that the Democratic Party broke state election law in 2014 by using their federal campaign account to pay for a mailer featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
State law forbids state contractors from contributing to campaigns, but the Malloy mailers were paid for by the Democratic Party’s federal account, which can accept donations legally from state contractors and had done so during the 2014 election cycle.
In a decision earlier this year, state regulators concluded “there could be scenarios where the Commission might consider such contributions by a state contractor to a state central committee’s federal account in connection with subsequent expenditures as problematic under Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.”
It goes onto say that “Federal law does not create a loophole in Connecticut campaign finance laws that would allow federal committees to make expenditures that are also contributions regarding Connecticut candidates.”
Michael Mandell, Executive Director of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said Wednesday that the party continues to follow state and federal law.
In the lawsuit filed in Hartford Superior Court, attorney David Golub, wrote that election regulators have “fundamentally misapprehended the effect” of the federal election campaign activity pre-emption on the state party.
It says the State Elections Enforcement Commission has “has taken the position that Connecticut’s campaign finance laws are controlling over FECA [Federal Election Campaign Act] with respect to all communications which refer to candidates for state office, even though such communications may also constitute voter registration or GOTV activity, as defined by federal law.”
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.
But state election regulators told federal regulators last October that 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 Connecticut Democratic Party withdrew its request to federal regulators regarding the legality of the mailer in October before they could issue a decision.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission denied the Democratic Party’s request for a declaratory ruling on April 14. The SEEC declined comment Wednesday on the Democratic Party’s appeal to Superior Court.
“The facts in this matter have never been disputed: the DSCC sent get-out-the-vote (GOTV) mailers using funds from the federal account because under federal law, all federal election activity (including voter registration and GOTV activities in actions where federal candidates are on the ballot) must be paid for with funds regulated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC),” Mandell said Wednesday. “Therefore, we were explicitly mandated by federal law to spend money from the DSCC-Federal Committee. We’ve repeatedly asked SEEC to address this issue, and SEEC has refused to do so.”
Mandell added that this is as much of an issue for the Democratic Party as it is for the Republican Party.
“We believe this is an important legal issue that impacts not just the Democratic Party, but also the Republican Party, and candidate committees alike, in campaigns past, present, and future in Connecticut — we need clarity over which set of laws apply to state parties during federal election cycles,” Mandell said.
But the Republican Party didn’t quite see it that way.
“The Democrat-dominated General Assembly made a mess of campaign finance regulations and now the state Democrats are stuck in the middle of the mess,” John Kleinhans, executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party, said. “We will continue to monitor our complaint and we have trust in the process.”