Connecticut’s Current Battle over Campaign Contributions

By: Lauren Coleman

In 2014, Republicans filed a complaint against Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, alleging that he and the Democratic Party used state contractor funds in violation of state law for Malloy’s campaign.  A legal battle has ensued, raising questions about the interplay between state and federal campaign finance laws, as well as the jurisdictional reach of the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) to conduct investigations.    ‘

Connecticut law does not allow parties to use contributions from state contractors in state campaigns.  Federal law, however, permits parties to use state contractor funds during federal election years for federal election activities, which includes “get-out-the-vote” efforts.  Get-out-the-vote activities are those that promote voting in elections in general.  For example, they include “encouraging or urging potential voters to vote,” providing information via mail about polling location hours, or communicating information about absentee voting. (11 C.F.R. § 100.24(a)(3)(1)).

In the 2014 campaign, the Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) used federal funds that included state contractor contributions to send out a mass mailing advertisement containing pictures of Malloy and information about his platform.  Republicans argue that this action clearly violated the state rule.  The DSCC, however, maintains that the mailing was a proper “get-out-the-vote” activity since the advertisement included some general information about the voting process.

The allegations against Malloy have raised public concern and received a lot of press attention, especially because Connecticut has a history of “pay-to-play” elections.  In the early 2000s, numerous scandals emerged where elected officials used illegal funds in their campaigns— earning Connecticut the nickname “Corrupticut.”

The scandals generated significant voter disillusion with the management of state campaign contributions.  This disillusionment gave rise to a major comprehensive reform in Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.  In 2005, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act No. 05-5, which altered the way parties could raise campaign funds and placed strong restrictions on how special interest groups could negotiate with candidates.  The state intended the law to revive voter confidence in campaign activities and restore election integrity.

The SEEC is an agency tasked with protecting the integrity of Connecticut’s elections, investigating potential violations of election laws, and providing advisory opinions concerning election issues.  The commission has taken action to investigate the allegations against Malloy to see if further legal action is needed.  In March 2015, the SEEC issued an investigatory subpoena, seeking access to relevant emails and documents from the DSCC.  The DSCC refused to comply with the subpoena, claiming that the SEEC did not have proper authority to investigate and characterizing the subpoena as a fishing expedition.

A court battle has ensued between the SEEC and DSCC to determine whether DSCC should be forced to comply with the subpoena.  The DSCC has filed a motion to quash the subpoena.  If the court grants the DSCC’s motion, then investigations of Malloy concerning his use of campaign funds will end.  The SEEC argues that there could be “far-reaching implications” for future investigations if it is not allowed to regulate state campaign contributions during federal election years.

The legal battle over Malloy’s use of state contractor funds could indeed have significant impacts on how Connecticut campaign contributions are managed in the future.  In addition to affecting the SEEC’s role in investigations, the lawsuit could help determine when federal law preempts state law on campaign finance issues.  It could also directly affect voter confidence in the state election process as well as restore efforts to clean up election activities in Connecticut.

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