Court Nixes Parts of State Campaign-Finance Law

     (CN) – The 2nd Circuit rejected portions of Connecticut’s campaign-finance law and upheld others in two rulings Tuesday that addressed the constitutionality of a public funding provision and bans on campaign donations from lobbyists and state contractors.

     The Manhattan-based court issued separate rulings on two challenged provisions: one that provides public money to candidates running for state office, and another that limits campaign contributions by state contractors, lobbyists and their families.
     In its decision on the public money provision, the court upheld U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill’s ruling that elements of the Citizens Election Program violate the First Amendment “by impermissibly restricting the right of candidates and other individuals and organizations to spend their own funds on campaign speech.”
     Specifically, the court struck down the so-called “trigger provisions,” which provide additional public funding when certain conditions are met. Judge Jose Cabranes said the provisions “have a potential chilling effect” on direct contributions to and independent spending for “cross-endorsed, major-party candidates.”
     However, the 2-1 majority said the program “does not unconstitutionally discriminate against minor-party candidates,” as Judge Underhill had ruled.
     Circuit Judge Amalya Kearse agreed with most of the majority’s ruling, but argued that the public-money program discriminates against minor-party candidates. Kearse pointed out that candidates whose parties garnered less than 20 percent of the vote in the previous gubernatorial election are not eligible for the maximum level of public funding, while candidates whose parties fared better in the previous election stand to receive more money.
     “A candidate’s First Amendment rights are burdened when the state provides funds only, or in greater amount, to his or her opponent, thereby increasing the opponent’s relative position,” Kearse wrote.
     In the second opinion, the 2nd Circuit upheld the state’s ban on contributions from state contractors and their families, calling it “an appropriate response” to recent corruption scandals involving state contractors.
     The most widely publicized scandal involved former Gov. John Rowland, who received federal prison time for accepting more than $100,000 in gifts and services from state contractors, including vacations, private jet flights and renovations to his lake cottage.
     The state has an anticorruption interest in banning contractor donations, the court ruled, but a similar ban on lobbyist contributions goes too far.
     “The recent corruption scandals had nothing to do with lobbyists, and thus there is insufficient evidence to infer that all contributions made by state lobbyists give rise to the appearance of corruption,” Judge Cabranes wrote.

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