Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sen. Joe Markley in the middle (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Two Republican lawmakers are appealing a ruling of the State Elections Enforcement Commission in Superior Court, saying that election regulators violated their free speech rights in 2014.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission fined state Sen. Joe Markley $2,000 and state Rep. Rob Sampson $5,000 for failing to get Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s opponent or their party to help pay for mailers attacking Malloy.

Malloy was up for re-election in 2014 and under the regulations of the Citizens Election Program, if he was going to be attacked in campaign literature, his opponent, Republican Tom Foley, or their Republican Town Committees, would have had to use their funds to pay for some of the mailers, according to the SEEC decision.

Conversely, under those same rules, if legislative Democratic candidates wanted to criticize a Republican gubernatorial candidate in their literature, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, or their Democratic Town Committees, would have had to use their funds to pay for some of the mailers as well.

Self-funding candidates who opt not to use public money from the Citizens Election Program are not restricted in who they criticize in their campaign literature.

The Institute for Free Speech has agreed to take the case to court on behalf of Markley and Sampson, who are both using the Citizens Election Program again this year in their races.

“Just as candidates for Congress must be able to discuss the president, candidates for state legislature must be able to discuss the governor,” Institute for Free Speech Legal Director Allen Dickerson said. “Yet Connecticut law prevents candidates for the General Assembly from criticizing the governor’s policies in ads unless they first secure the approval and funding of one of the governor’s opponents. This policy effectively bans candidates from speaking to voters about one of the most important responsibilities of the office they seek to hold — checking the power of the executive.”

Markley and Sampson, through their attorneys, are asking the court to dismiss the fines and declare the law unconstitutional.

“Requiring legislative candidates to get permission and funding from a gubernatorial candidate in order to discuss the governor in campaign ads violates the First Amendment,” the two said in a press release.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, which is defending the SEEC in court, said, “We are reviewing the matter and will respond appropriately in court. We would decline further comment.”

It should be noted that candidates this year don’t have to worry about criticizing Malloy or his record because Malloy isn’t running for re-election.