The head of Connecticut’s election enforcement agency warned lawmakers Monday that a piece of legislation they’re considering would change how political parties operate in Connecticut.
The proposed changes, which no one was willing to claim credit for Monday, come as the State Elections Enforcement Commission is waiting to find out if the court will allow them to move forward with enforcing a subpoena against the Connecticut Democratic Party in connection with spending in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s 2014 re-election campaign.
“Why was this language added?” Michael Brandi, head of the State Elections Enforcement Agency, asked members of the General Administration and Elections Committee Monday. “Why was it done at this time?”
No one had an answer.
Brandi said the language defining a party committee was adopted over 20 years ago and has been working well since then. He said it was changed slightly three years ago when the General Assembly changed the amount of money the parties could contribute to clean election candidates.
At that time it broadened the definition of party building activities. “That would have been the time to make a technical change, yet, none was made at that time,” Brandi told the committee.
Now, just when a decision is expected any day from the court, the legislature is looking to change the definition of a party committee, Brandi said.
The legislation, which generally requires greater disclosure, also would allow parties to create surrogate groups that would be considered “independent themselves,” Brandi said. If this change is adopted then parties and political committees will be able to evade contribution limits. It means a party could set up an independent group that could coordinate with the party committee and spend unlimited amounts of money on clean election candidates.
Brandi said it’s already assumed party committees coordinate with their candidates and have been granted the ability to do so through what’s called “organizational expenditures.”
Since limits on the amount of money a party can spend on a clean election candidate were removed in 2013, “this would create a free-for-all where a party could have a two-headed beast. One that could raise unlimited funds and spend on independent expenditures and the other that can coordinate with candidates and spend on unlimited organizational expenditures,” Brandi said.
The language that was originally proposed by the SEEC was an attempt to draw bright lines and avoid costly litigation in the future, Brandi said.
It’s unknown who changed the legislation.
Brandi said the legislation as written would create parallel campaign finance system. One that’s “nominally” regulated by federal law and Connecticut’s landmark public campaign finance system.
He said the changes proposed lay a path for circumvention of Connecticut’s campaign finance rules.
Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, said as politicians they have a hard enough time maintaining the public’s confidence.
“When we engage in laws that further erode the campaign finance laws that were put in place to make sure we have clean elections, it will do nothing but hurt us,” Smith said.