A Superior Court hearing to determine whether the State Elections Enforcement Committee can subpoena Connecticut’s Democratic Party to investigate the legality of Gov. Dannell Malloy’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign adjourned before all evidence was heard last Thursday, leaving the future of state campaign finance reform laws still pending. David Golub, the Democratic State Central Committee’s lawyer, will present this argument before Superior Judge Antonio Robaina on Nov. 17, when the hearing is scheduled to continue.
Though the federal branches of political parties are allowed to receive funding from state contractors, Connecticut’s Clean Election laws prohibit state parties that register as publicly financed campaigns from doing the same. Former Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola alleged last October that Malloy’s campaign received state contractor funding illegally, an accusation that, if true, would mean Malloy’s campaign violated the Clean Election laws. Malloy, whose campaign received $6.5 million through its status as a publicly funded campaign, would owe the state the same sum if the Democrats were found in violation of the law.
The SEEC took the state Democrats to court in May after the party refused to disclose financial statements and campaign emails that could confirm whether Malloy illegally received funding from state contractors by accepting money the contractors donated to the federal Democratic Party. The SEEC’s lawsuit is countered by a suit from the Democratic State Central Committee, which argues that the SEEC does not have the purview to investigate the committee’s use of federal campaign funds. In fact, members of the DSCC said they used federal funds to disseminate material encouraging people to vote.
Golub, the attorney for the DSCC, said in an Oct. 8 motion to quash the subpoena that the 1971 Federal Election Act — which requires state candidates to use federal funding if they choose to disseminate materials encouraging people to vote — supersedes state Clean Election laws that bar state candidates from using federal funding altogether. Golub told the News the money given by state contractors was used only to pay for federal expenses .
Experts following the case have noted that if the Democratic Party successfully quashes the SEEC’s subpoena, it will decrease the power of Connecticut’s Clean Elections laws .
“If in fact [the Democrats] win their suit it’s going to result in a more fluid system of money and probably a movement of money that is more difficult to follow,” said Gary Rose, chair of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies at Sacred Heart University.
Josh Foley, a SEEC staff attorney, declined to comment on the investigation because it is still ongoing.
Maura Osborne, assistant attorney general and SEEC attorney, filed a memorandum in support of the subpoena on Oct. 26, arguing the DSCC’s attempt to block the SEEC’s investigation is based on the false belief that the SEEC does not have any real investigative authority. In fact, she said, the body has nearly 40 years of experience investigating campaign finance law violations.
“Even more potentially damaging to the SEEC’s oversight powers — and therefore the integrity of Connecticut’s state elections — is the DSCC’s assertion that a relatively inconsequential provision of federal campaign finance law, which regulates a small subset of voter outreach communication in federal elections, operates as an impenetrable shield to prevent any state investigation of state party or state candidate conduct whenever invoked by a party,” Osborne’s memorandum read.
Cheri Quickmire, the Connecticut executive director of Common Cause — a nonpartisan grass-roots organization that advocates for issues such as campaign finance reform — said the SEEC definitively has the power to issue a subpoena, adding that the Democrats’ refusal to comply is problematic.
In the memorandum, Osborne also wrote that Connecticut has a long history of corruption in state government.
“[Connecticut is] a state that used to pride itself on being really pristine in its politics … and then all the blight happened at once,” Rose said. “I thought we’d gotten over it perhaps, but it looks like maybe we haven’t.”
The SEEC was created in 1974.