Courtesy of CT-N
SEEC Executive Director Michael Brandi (Courtesy of CT-N)

HARTFORD, CT — Two proposed bills that are designed to strengthen election reporting laws received the backing of the executive director of the State Elections Commission at a public hearing on Monday.

Michael Brandi, executive director of the State Enforcement Commission, said Connecticut already has laws that serve as a “model” for other states to follow but that bills proposed by the General Administration and Elections Committee “would strengthen and protect” legislation already in place.

Brandi said his commission wants to make sure that Connecticut has “clean elections and they are run properly.”

One bill would improve reporting accountability for outside money.

Connecticut, Brandi said, has campaign finance laws that are solid, but he said there is still is room for improvement, especially when it comes to “drilling down through the dark money to where it really comes from.”

There hasn’t been a lot of dark money in Connecticut elections. One outside group that did not have to disclose its donors contributed $1.17 million to Grow Connecticut in 2014 in order to help Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley. It was unclear who the donors were to A Public Voice Inc., the group that made the donation.

“The public needs to know who is behind the messaging” of election campaigns, Brandi added, stating the ultimate goal is to identify the names and organizations who actually donate to these outside groups.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has also been seeking to erase the gray area that exists between state and federal election law with a legislative proposal that restricts the amount of money a state party can receive from its federal account.

State contractors, who are banned from giving to clean election candidates, can give money to the Republican and Democratic Party’s federal account, which is used to fund Congressional campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts.

During the 2014 election cycle the Connecticut Democratic Party used its federal account for expenditures on behalf of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election bid. The Democratic Party through its attorney, David Golub, argued that it had to because the mailers included a get-out-the-vote message.

The Republican Party filed a complaint with election regulators, who then sought to subpoena information about the decision to spend the money in the last month of the 2014 campaign. The Democratic Party appealed the release of the the documents to Superior Court before it eventually agreed to settle the complaint and pay a $325,000 fine in June 2016.

As part of that settlement, the Democratic Party and the SEEC agreed it was possible to comply with state and federal law through the use of a compliant account.

Since the Republican Party is not part of that settlement there’s nothing to say that they couldn’t use the same loophole the Democratic Party used in 2014 to funnel money to clean election candidates.

The legislation supported by the SEEC would require both parties to use the compliant account option.

Meanwhile, the SEEC is also preparing for the 2018 election and asking lawmakers to consider a supplemental grant for candidates in the gubernatorial race “where high spending and independent expenditures have consistently been a factor.”

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a trigger provision that would allow clean election candidates to raise additional funds in 2011. Connecticut had trigger provisions in its law back in 2010, but the law was rewritten a year later in order to comply with the court ruling.

The SEEC is asking lawmakers to restore a trigger provision.

Other legislation would also seek to limit the amount of money a national party can give to a state party. The proposal is to cap it at $100,000.