HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A court battle over whether the state Democratic Party illegally spent money on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election campaign last year is threatening the integrity of Connecticut elections and regulators’ ability to investigate wrongdoing, according to the attorney general’s office.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission is trying to investigate whether Democrats violated state law by paying for a mass mailing supporting Malloy’s re-election with money from an account designated for federal office campaigns. The commission subpoenaed the Democratic State Central Committee for campaign spending records, but Democrats are fighting the subpoena in court.
Democrats are arguing that the mailing was regulated by federal law because it constituted a get-out-the-vote activity, and they say the Elections Enforcement Commission has no authority to investigate. The mailing touted Malloy’s record but also provided details about the election including when the polls were open and how to get rides to the polls.
A Hartford Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday on whether the commission can subpoena records from the Democratic State Central Committee. The hearing was postponed from Tuesday.
The commission is looking into a complaint filed last year by former state Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. Labriola said the federal campaign account used by Democrats to pay for the Malloy mass mailing included contributions from state contractors, who are prohibited under state law from giving money to state office candidates. Contractors, however, are allowed to contribute to political parties’ accounts for candidates for federal office.
Labriola says that if the Democrats are found to have violated state election laws, it could result in Malloy and his campaign being forced to repay the $6.5 million he received from the state’s public campaign financing system.
In a legal brief filed Monday in the subpoena case, the attorney general’s office — which is representing the Elections Enforcement Commission — blasted the Democrats’ arguments. It said a ruling in favor of the Democrats would “reverberate through state elections and even beyond the borders of Connecticut.”
“The (Democrats’) overbroad preemption argument — that a minor federal campaign finance provision completely prevents the SEEC from investigating at all whether a state candidate running for state office accepted a contribution from a state party committee that was funded by contributions made by state contractors — is stunning, without merit, and premature,” Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne wrote in the brief.
Murphy Osborne added if the Democrats prevail, then “in every election in Connecticut where there is a federal candidate on the ballot, which is every two years, the SEEC’s authority to regulate contributions to state candidates will be effortlessly circumvented.”
In court documents filed Tuesday, the Democrats’ lawyer, David Golub, wrote that Michael Brandi, the executive director of the Elections Enforcement Commission, testified during a deposition last week that the commission has no jurisdiction over spending from the Democrats’ federal campaign account. But Brandi said state law authorized the commission to issue the subpoena in the Malloy mailings case, Golub said.
Golub wrote that the federal law on get-out-the-vote activities bars the Elections Enforcement Commission from both regulating and investigating them.
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