HARTFORD, CT — Two Republican lawmakers said it’s ridiculous that state election regulators would subpoena them to show up for a hearing this week that they welcomed more than two years ago.
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, and Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, refused to settle complaints with the State Elections Enforcement Commission regarding their references to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in their 2014 campaign materials.
“Given that Representative Sampson and I have been urging the SEEC to move forward with these hearings, the decision to pay marshals to serve papers on us is a pointless waste of state money,” Markley said.
Markley and Sampson refused to sign a settlement agreement last year that essentially says they violated a State Elections Enforcement Commission opinion because they mentioned another candidate’s name in their campaign material. The opinion, which was issued a few weeks before the 2014 election, said that if candidates 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 or Sampson it would mean either Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley or the Republican Party would have had to partially pay for the mailings.
Some of the statements on the campaign materials that would have violated the ruling were things like: “Rob and Joe have consistently fought Governor Malloy’s agenda and have tried to restore Common Sense and fiscal responsibility in state government.”
Markley and Sampson have consistently refused to settle because they disagree with the advisory opinion and believe free speech should prevail even when they’re receiving public funds for their campaigns.
“The implication,” said Markley, “is that the inclusion of the unpopular Governor in a communication cannot be directly related to the election of a legislative candidate. That flies in the face of decades of established political strategy.”
He argued the campaign to unseat a popular Democratic state representative in Southington proves his point.
“Look at the 2016 election in my home town of Southington: the governor wasn’t on the ballot, but the entire focus of the Republican campaign was to tie incumbent State Representative to Malloy. The overwhelming defeat in that race of a personally popular Democrat shows how effective that strategy was.”
In that race, former Rep. David Zoni, a Democrat, lost to Rep. John Fusco, a Republican, who currently holds the seat.
“The First Amendment of the US Constitution exists to protect political speech more than any other kind,” Sampson said. “The courts have consistently held that restrictions on speech should be as slight as possible, and that political speech in particular must not be unnecessarily curtailed.”
He said state election regulators have tried to place “extreme restrictions on campaign communication, to prevent coordination which it has no evidence has ever taken place.”
Sampson and Markley said they will continue to fight the SEEC decision even if it means taking their case to court.
“We are confident our position will be upheld—and we believe it is important it be upheld,” Sampson said.
The two said they would again reject any settlement offer at an Aug. 31 hearing.