Latest On Democratic Governors’ Suit Over Campaign Finance Laws

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By EDMUND H. MAHONY

Connecticut election regulators and the state Republican Party are fighting a Democratic effort that could boost Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election war chest by removing restrictions on campaign fundraising and spending from the state’s landmark campaign finance reform laws.

The state Elections Enforcement Commission and the Republicans filed papers in U.S. District Court Tuesday opposing a suit by the Democratic Governors Association that challenges the law as an unconstitutional infringement of political free speech.

The DGA wants the federal court to overturn key components of the law that regulate coordination between candidates and groups that raise money and spend to influence elections . In the meantime, the DGA is asking for an speedy court order blocking the state from enforcing the parts of the law the DGA wants set aside.

If the court were to issue the order on the DGA’s schedule, it would clear Malloy to raise money for the DGA at a what is expected to be a lucrative, Democratic policy conference in Greenwich later this month. The DGA then would be free to donate unrestricted sums to groups supporting Malloy and other democratic causes later in the campaign.

The state’s elections overseers and the Republicans have joined an array of clean campaign advocates attacking the DGA suit on a variety of grounds.

The Democratic governors argue that Connecticut’s strict campaign finance laws – regulations that seek to increase transparency and eliminate back-room influence buying by major donors – have been made illegally restrictive under U.S. Supreme Court decisions affording first amendment protection to what are known as independent political expenditures.

Groups challenging the suit argue that the DGA is wrong on the law and that state campaign law passes constitutional muster. They have characterized the DGA’s request for an immediate order blocking enforcement of the laws an attempt to get an advance exemption from potential campaign spending violations.

“Not only does the DGA seek to render completely inoperable a central component of Connecticut’s campaign finance scheme – its expenditure definition – it also seeks to be shielded from any investigation or inquiry about whether it has violated other remaining provisions of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws,” the state Attorney General’s office wrote in papers filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday in behalf of the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Attorney’s Proloy Das and Richard Healey, representing the Republicans, are seeking to intervene in the suit, pending before Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C, Hall. In their papers, the two argued: “The concerns of hidden money influencing campaigns … are precisely what the DGA’s lawsuit, if successful, would create. The Supreme Court has recognized the state’s interest in preventing those scenarios from occurring.”

Malloy, whose fundraising efforts stand to benefit by a DGA legal victory, has been a long supporter of campaign finance reforms and twice used public financing to defeat wealthy, self-funded opponents in the last gubernatorial election cycle. But he said the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in Citizen’s United changed the political landscape and he and other candidates have been forced to adapt.

Malloy’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, said the DGA notified him in advance of the lawsuit as a courtesy.

“The governor’s perspective on this has always been very clear,” Doba said. “As soon as the Citizens United decision came down he said he thought it was the wrong decision because it would open up the floodgates to outside money coming into campaigns. He also has been very clear that he believes the playing field should be level. While this is not the landscape he would’ve chosen, he does believe that if organizations believe they need to take certain actions in order to ensure that level playing field they have every right to do so.”

Election reform advocates forecast doom for Connecticut’s aggressive set of campaign laws, which already have been sent through one set of amendments following an earlier constitutional challenge.

“The integrity of Connecticut’s elections generally, and the publicly-financed elections in particular, depend on the successful defense of the challenged ‘coordination’ restrictions,” representatives of five advocacy groups wrote to state Attorney General George Jepsen.

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