Courtesy of CT-N
Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne (Courtesy of CT-N)

An attorney for state election regulators told Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina that the Connecticut Democratic Party was trying to “stonewall and stymie” an investigation, while an attorney for the party told him they were seeking highly confidential party communications protected by the First Amendment. 

Those arguments were made Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court. Robaina gave the attorneys two hours to make their closing arguments. He asked no questions. He has 120 days to make a decision, but told the attorneys he will make one as quickly as possible.

Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne, who represents the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which is seeking to enforce the subpoena against the Democratic Party said the investigation regulators are trying to conduct “is seriously languishing” due to the lack of compliance.

The complaint against the Democratic Party, which spent more than $200,000 from its federal account on mailers featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, was filed by former Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola back in October 2014.

The mailers that also included a get-out-the-vote message were paid for with the party’s federal account. The federal account can accept money from state contractors. That creates a conflict between federal and state law. State law prohibits state contractor money from being used on publicly financed candidates, even though publicly financed candidates are now allowed to accept unlimited amounts from political parties.

Osborne said if the party is allowed to get away with this it amounts to a “massive circumvention route” around the state’s campaign finance laws, which were adopted in 2005 in the wake of former Gov. John G. Rowland’s corruption plea for accepting gifts from state contractors.

David Golub, an attorney for the Democratic Party, argued because of the passing get-out-the-vote message the party had no choice but to use its federal account to pay for the mailings.

He said the court can’t allow an investigation into an activity that is legal.

Courtesy of CT-N
David Golub, an attorney for the Democratic Party (Courtesy of CT-N)

But Golub pointed out this case is about more than the mailings. He said the investigatory subpoena was much broader than the mailings.

“Does the commission have the right to investigate whatever it wants to investigate?” Golub asked.

He argued that the subpoena intrudes on the First Amendment rights of a political party in asking for communications between certain individuals high up in the party’s operation. It also seeks the names of solicitors who seek contributions for the party.

Golub said they turned over all the documents of contributors, bank statements, and invoices related to the mailings.

He said regulators are asking for materials protected by the First Amendment.

Osborne said this is the first time the party has conceded that the SEEC has some limited ability to investigate. But state regulators aren’t willing to allow the Democratic Party to “dictate this investigation.”

“This case is of paramount importance to the State Elections Enforcement Commission and the integrity of the state’s campaign finance system,” Osborne said.

Osborne said the SEEC has always conveyed their investigation went beyond the mailers.

“It’s much broader than that,” she said.

Golub said that wasn’t evident until he heard the arguments in court.