Christine Stuart file photo
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut (Christine Stuart file photo)

Common Cause of Connecticut on Wednesday called upon the Connecticut Democratic Party to drop its challenge of the state’s clean election laws.

The lawsuit served Tuesday is the second since the start of the 10-month investigation into mailings the party did on behalf of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy during the 2014 election cycle.

The Democratic Party believes federal law trumps state law when it comes to the mailings, but the State Elections Enforcement Commission told the Federal Elections Commission in October 2014 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.”

However, a draft decision by the FEC shows that it was poised in October to rule against the Connecticut Democratic Party. But the party withdrew its request for the ruling before it could be issued and went ahead and sent the mailings to prospective voters anyway shortly before the election.

A spokesman for the Democratic Party has said it’s far from clear that the FEC was going to rule against it, and also that key lawyers were “required to be in court in Connecticut, defending the Connecticut Republican Party’s lawsuit, at the same time the FEC hearing was scheduled in Washington.”

Common Cause defended state election regulators Wednesday.

“The Clean Election Law works and is popular with everyone but partisan hacks,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director for Common Cause in Connecticut, said in a press release Wednesday. “The state Democratic Party seeks to undermine Connecticut’s 10-year-old campaign finance laws, passed with strong bipartisan support in 2005.”

Quickmire said the real issue here is whether Connecticut law is more strict than federal law when it comes to campaign activities, such as the mailings.

Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said Malloy was the first governor elected under the clean election system.

“As a Democratic Party, we continue to embrace and champion this important institution within our campaign finance system,” Appleby said.

He said there was a procedural question of whether to file an administrative appeal or a declaratory action, and the second lawsuit reflects the party’s desire to get to a resolution as soon as possible.

“Our hope is to have an objective authority rule on the underlying conflict between state and federal law so that there is clarity for all parties in current and future elections,” Appleby said.

However, Common Cause, which is usually aligned with the Democratic Party, doesn’t see it that way.

“The Democratic State Central Party has refused to comply with a subpoena from SEEC requesting information and is clearly trying to set a precedent that would allow it to avoid compliance with Connecticut’s strong campaign finance laws,” Quickmire said. “We hope the state party’s effort to evade Connecticut’s strong campaign finance law fail.”

Democratic lawmakers have been slow to respond to requests for comment on whether the party should continue to pursue legal action.

Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano said that’s no surprise. He said the “Democratic leadership in the state doesn’t stand up for what’s right even though they like to talk a good game.”

As for the mailer, which was paid for by the party’s federal account, Common Cause believes it was designed to persuade voters to vote for Malloy.

“The GOTV portion of the card is a mere 15 out of 195 words in small type in the corner of the mailer. Based on the FEC’s rules, those 15 words do not magically transform a mailer that promotes the re-election of Dannel Malloy into a GOTV piece,” Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for programs and strategy of the national office of Common Cause, said. “That’s the sort of sleight-of-hand voters see right through and rightly get angry that politicians won’t just play by the rules, or worse, that they don’t have to.”