A civil trial that could force the Connecticut Democratic Party to comply with a subpoena from the State Elections Enforcement Commission will take place next month even as the party moves forward with its own lawsuit to squash the commission’s investigation into campaign finance violations.
Hartford Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina, who met with the parties Wednesday behind closed doors, approved a timeline that gives the SEEC two weeks to review the Democratic Party’s answer to the subpoena enforcement complaint before the trial begins on Oct. 27.
Judge Robaina will decide if the Democratic Party must provide state election regulators with financial documents and records of correspondence revolving around several October 2014 election mailings featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The SEEC investigation was prompted by a complaint from the Republican Party alleging that the Democratic Party’s federal account, which can receive state contractor funds, should not have been used to pay for mailings featuring mostly Malloy and a small get-out-the-vote message.
SEEC Executive Director Michael Brandi said the commission is trying to proceed as quickly as possible despite its request for extra time to review and respond to the Democratic Party’s filings. The trial had originally been scheduled to begin on Oct. 15.
“It’s what it’s going to take for everybody to understand the briefings and the papers being filed and this way allows us to move forward,” Brandi said.
Court documents filed last month by the commission’s counsel, Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne, said the process must move quickly “to avoid irreparable harm to the investigation that could result from loss of documents, witnesses’ unavailability or memory loss.”
David Golub, attorney for the Democratic Party, did not object to the altered timeline.
At Wednesday’s status conference, the judge also scheduled a Nov. 17 hearing for the lawsuit lodged by the Democratic Party asking the court to end the SEEC investigation into the mailings.
The party is seeking a declaratory judgment “determining that Connecticut’s campaign finance laws . . . are pre-empted by federal law with respect to the funding of ‘Federal election activity,’ including voter registration and GOTV activities, when those activities relate to an election in which a federal candidate is on the ballot, even where materials used in furtherance of those activities do not refer to a candidate for federal office, and even though those materials only refer to a candidate for state office.”
The Democratic Party initially asked the Federal Elections Commission to find out if it was okay to send the mailers with federal funds. State election law bans state contractors from contributing to statewide candidates, but state contractors are allowed to contribute to the party’s federal account, which is traditionally used for the benefit of candidates running for federal office.
Last October, just as the federal commission was poised to rule against the Democratic Party, the party withdrew its request for the ruling before it could be issued and sent the mailings to prospective voters anyway.
The Republican Party filed a complaint with state election regulators shortly after. It’s that complaint that prompted the request for documents and eventually the May subpoena when the SEEC was told the Democratic Party wasn’t going to voluntarily comply.