Two Republican lawmakers told state election regulators Wednesday that they’re refusing to sign a settlement agreement forcing them to admit they violated an advisory opinion when they mentioned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in their 2014 campaign materials.
“I cannot discuss politics in Connecticut without mentioning Governor Malloy, and I’m afraid that to mention him is to condemn him,” Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said defending his decision to mention his name in a 2014 campaign mailer.
Markley and Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, have refused to sign a settlement agreement that essentially says they violated a State Elections Enforcement Commission opinion because they mentioned another candidate’s name in their materials. The opinion, which was issued a few weeks before the 2014 election, said that if they mention another candidate’s name, and that candidate is running for election that year, then their opponent or the party must contribute funds to pay for the campaign materials.
In the case of Markley and Sampson, mentioning Malloy would have required Republican Tom Foley or the Republican Party to contribute funds to the campaign materials.
Since Malloy is not up for re-election this year, Republicans can mention him as much as they want without consequence, according to the SEEC’s regulations.
“Does the SEEC believe that political speech permitted one year may be forbidden in another?” Sampson said. “I cannot imagine a First Amendment restriction more capricious and vulnerable to challenge, profoundly limiting a candidate’s ability to communicate.”
Markley and Sampson are two of 16 Republican lawmakers who have been issued similar settlement agreements by the SEEC. Some Republican lawmakers or candidates have signed the agreements and others are still pending.
Josh Foley, a spokesman for the SEEC, said he can’t comment on the cases, which are considered pending investigations.
“We do not comment on pending investigations and do not try our cases in the press,” Foley said. “However, any respondent to a complaint is entitled to full administrative hearing before a hearing officer appointed by our bipartisan commission, at which time they can make any legal arguments they wish.”
JR Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, said the timing of these settlement agreements is suspect.
The initial advisory opinion issued Oct. 17, 2014 came after Malloy started showing up in Republican mailings. Republicans were using the mail pieces to show how cozy the Democratic lawmakers were with the governor and hoping that coziness would be frowned upon by voters.
He said the SEEC “overstepped its interpretation” of its own regulations in proposing these settlements.
“I think the SEEC knows they have a weak case,” Markley said. “They want to be done with this matter, and figure legislators — not eager for legal entanglement — will apologize if there’s no penalty. But we have committed no infraction, and I’m not inclined to let bureaucrats extend the law by creating precedent that we let go unchallenged.”
However, Romano said that if the SEEC is going to continue to apply the law in this manner then it means Democratic clean election candidates can’t use Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in their mailings unless they want to pay for it with party funds or funds from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who is not running for re-election this year, has said “Romano should clean the Republicans’ own dirty hands before trying to whitewash the fact that they chose a racist, misogynist as their leader.”
Romano said he finds it interesting that the SEEC is going to enforce a rule about including a name on a mailer, but it’s going to let the Democratic Party and Malloy’s 2014 re-election effort get away with violating clean election law in exchange for $325,000.
Romano is referring to the SEEC’s decision to settle a complaint against the Democratic Party and Malloy’s 2014 campaign, which ended nearly two years of litigation over how federal funds, which include state contractor contributions, were used to promote the governor. Malloy received more than $6.5 million in taxpayer dollars to fund his re-election effort.
A federal grand jury in New Haven has picked up where state regulators left off and is also looking into the allegations that the money was illegally spent and solicited by the 2014 campaign effort.