(CN) – A federal judge struck down Connecticut’s public campaign finance system, calling it unconstitutional. The Citizens Election Program “imposes an unconstitutional, discriminatory burden on minor party candidates’ First Amendment-protected right to political opportunity,” U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill ruled.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he will appeal to the 2nd Circuit.
After two years of argument and deliberation, Underhill ruled in favor of the Green and Libertarian Parties, which argued the system created in 2005 imposed an unfair burden for minor party candidates seeking to qualify for matching campaign funds through a state grant program.
In his 138-page ruling, Underhill concluded that the system provided major party candidates with “windfall levels” of funding for their campaigns, artificially enhanced the strength of the two major parties, made it difficult for minor party candidates to qualify, and discouraged minor party candidates from participating.
Underhill’s decision focused on the increased burden a minor party candidate must meet to qualify for the matching state grant. The judge praised the state’s efforts to increase public confidence in state elections, but still found the program unconstitutional.
A minor party candidate qualifies for a matching grant if a previous member of his or her party received a certain percentage of the vote during the last election cycle. If no minor party candidate participated in the previous election, then a candidate must gather a certain percentage of signatures from voters.
These two criteria need not be met by major party candidates.
“CEP’s different treatment of major and minor party candidates imposes an unconstitutional, discriminatory burden on minor party candidates’ exercise of fundamental rights for no compelling reason,” Underhill wrote in the decision issued Thursday.
On Friday, Attorney General Blumenthal said he would ask the court to stay the decision while he appeals to the 2nd Circuit.
The ACLU, which represented the plaintiffs, applauded Underhill’s decision.
“Connecticut’s campaign finance law explicitly discriminates against minor party and independent candidates by providing direct governmental subsidies to major party candidates on terms that deny the same benefits to minor party and petitioning candidates,” attorney Mark Lopez said in a statement.