Campaign Spending Fight in Connecticut

     HARTFORD (CN) – Connecticut’s Democratic Party appealed to Superior Court a State Election Enforcement Commission ruling on spending money for what Democrats call a get-out-the vote pamphlet.
     Democrats, Republicans and the state are squabbling over possible conflicts in state and federal campaign finance laws.
     Connecticut’s Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. claimed the Democratic Party broke state election law in 2014 by using its federal campaign account to pay for a mailer featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy.
     State law forbids state contractors from contributing to campaigns, but the Malloy mailers were paid for by the Democratic Party’s federal account, which can accept donations from state contractors and had done so during the 2014 election cycle.
     The State Election Enforcement Commission has ruled that “there could be scenarios where the Commission might consider such contributions by a state contractor to a state central committee’s federal account in connection with subsequent expenditures as problematic under Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.”
     The commission ruling added: “Federal law does not create a loophole in Connecticut campaign finance laws that would allow federal committees to make expenditures that are also contributions regarding Connecticut candidates.”
     But in its May 27 administrative appeal to Superior Court, the Democrats’ attorney David Golub wrote that the state commission “fundamentally misapprehended the effect” of the federal pre-emption of the state party.
     Connecticut Democratic Party Executive Director Michael Mandell said last week that the party is following state and federal law.
     In its 26-page appeal, the Democrats say the Elections Enforcement Commission has “has taken the position that Connecticut’s campaign finance laws are controlling over FECA [Federal Election Campaign Act] with respect to all communications which refer to candidates for state office, even though such communications may also constitute voter registration or GOTV [get out the vote] activity, as defined by federal law.”
     The mailer at issue featured Malloy, and included information about how voters could get to the polls on Election Day.
     Democrats say that information make it OK to send the mailer using its federal account, because federal law allows mailers with get-out-the-vote messages, which are protected by the First Amendment.
     But the state election commission said in October 2014 that it would be wrong for federal regulators to assume they have jurisdiction over the mailing because it “glibly” includes “a stray get-out-the-vote message.”
     The Connecticut Democratic Party withdrew its inquiry on the legality of the mailers before federal regulators issued a decision.
     The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) denied the Democratic Party’s request for a declaratory ruling on April 14.
     The commission declined comment on the Democratic Party’s appeal to Superior Court.
     Mandell said last week: “The facts in this matter have never been disputed: the DSCC sent get-out-the-vote (GOTV) mailers using funds from the federal account because under federal law, all federal election activity (including voter registration and GOTV activities in actions where federal candidates are on the ballot) must be paid for with funds regulated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Therefore, we were explicitly mandated by federal law to spend money from the DSCC-Federal Committee. We’ve repeatedly asked SEEC to address this issue, and SEEC has refused to do so.”
     Mandell said this is as much of an issue for the Republican Party as it is for Democrats.
     “We believe this is an important legal issue that impacts not just the Democratic Party, but also the Republican Party, and candidate committees alike, in campaigns past, present, and future in Connecticut – we need clarity over which set of laws apply to state parties during federal election cycles,” Mandell said.
     But the Republican Party didn’t see it that way.
     “The Democrat-dominated General Assembly made a mess of campaign finance regulations and now the state Democrats are stuck in the middle of the mess,” John Kleinhans, executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party, said. “We will continue to monitor our complaint and we have trust in the process.”
     On Friday, the State Elections Enforcement Commission issued investigatory subpoenas to key Democrats and members of Malloy’s campaign staff.
     The subpoena shows the commission is looking for documents on how the mailings were funded and how the message was developed. It also requested all documents and communications related to contributions over $1,000 received by the Democratic State Central Committee that were solicited by Malloy for any federal account.
     And it seeks information on meetings between Gov. Malloy, former Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris, Malloy campaign manager Jonathan Blair, Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian, and Roy Occhiogrosso, a consultant with Global Strategies Group and a former Malloy adviser.

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