NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) – Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday claiming election regulators are trampling on his free-speech rights by blocking his participation in Connecticut’s clean-election system, which bars convicted felons from receiving public campaign funds.
Ganim, 57, who is considering a run for governor, is challenging the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s unanimous decision to deny him public funding for his campaign.
Mayor Ganim was convicted in 2003 for a variety of federal felonies for municipal corruption. He served seven years in prison, restored his voting rights and then ran for mayor again in 2015 and won.
Now he’s one of more than a dozen candidates who want to run for governor of Connecticut using the Citizens’ Election Program, which allows candidates who meet certain fundraising thresholds to receive public funds for their campaign. The program, enacted after Ganim’s conviction, prevents convicted felons from participating.
“Mr. Ganim’s right to free speech is impaired because the amendment excluding him from funding is not rationally related to the claimed state interests in protecting the CEP or the public fisc, is not narrowly tailored and is unnecessarily harsh,” according to the complaint, filed in New Haven federal court.
“It further undermines the CEP’s goals of combating public corruption and promoting clean elections, and imposes an unfair and unnecessary burden on Mr. Ganim, and others by not allowing them to participate in the CEP,” the lawsuit continues.
Ganim and his attorneys say the funding scheme places an impermissible restriction on his freedom of speech because it uses public funds to favor and facilitate other participating candidates’ messages over Ganim’s based solely on his status as a convicted felon.
The mayor says a 2013 amendment to the program imposes an unforgiving lifetime ban on the ability of certain individuals to apply for and be a part of the Connecticut’s clean public-financing system. In doing so, the law creates an unfair and unnecessary barrier to public office and an unequal playing field for him and others similarly situated, Ganim claims.
“In my view, this law is unconstitutional because it violates my right to free speech, equal political opportunity, and equal protection of the law guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” Ganim said in a press release.
The SEEC unanimously denied Ganim the right to participate in the program, after he sought its permission shortly after announcing he is exploring a run for governor in April.
Meanwhile, he’s been fundraising for his potential gubernatorial bid.
Ganim raised $36,000 between the end of April and the end of June.
“I regret that I have to take this action, but in doing so I do not seek special treatment,” Ganim said. “I am only seeking fairness under the law, and clarity for all candidates and voters now and in the future.”
Ganim, who tried but was unable to restore his law license following his conviction, is represented by Louis George, Raymond Hassett and David Yale of Hassett & George in Simsbury, Conn.