Hearing Postponed; Democratic Party, Election Regulators to Get Their Day in Court Thursday
(Updated 10:43 a.m.) A state court judge was expected to hear arguments today in a dispute between state election regulators and the Connecticut Democratic Party over whether the party illegally spent money on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s 2014 re-election bid. However, the hearing was postponed at the last minute when the attorney for the Democratic Party had a family emergency. The hearing has been rescheduled for Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
On the eve of what was supposed to be the start of the hearing, the two sides laid out their arguments one last time in court documents filed Monday.
Attorneys for the State Elections Enforcement Commission say the commission has been prevented from investigating the Democratic Party’s decision to spend federal election funds on several mailers for Malloy. The complaint was filed by the Connecticut Republican Party back in 2014.
The complaint alleges that the federal election account the Democratic Party used included funds from state contractors, who are prohibited from giving to state campaigns. It also alleges “improper coordination between a contributor and state candidate committee and between a state candidate and a federal committee.”
Attorneys for the SEEC say the Democratic Party has attempted to “completely block” its investigation since early 2015. They said the party is using a “relatively inconsequential provision of federal campaign finance law, which regulates a small subset of voter outreach communication in federal elections” to operate “as an impenetrable shield to prevent any state investigation of state party or state candidate conduct whenever invoked by a party.”
If the Democratic Party is allowed to prevail with this argument, every two years when a federal candidate is on the ballot, the SEEC’s authority to regulate contributions to state candidates “will be effortlessly circumvented,” Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne wrote in her brief.
The “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,” Osborne wrote.
The Democratic Party, who is represented by attorney David Golub, argues that federal election law trumps state election law, which means the state regulators have no standing to investigate.
Golub argues in his brief that federal election law “occupies the field.”
“Consistent with that Congressional intent, the Federal Election Commission has repeatedly specifically held that the FECA [Federal Election Campaign Act] occupies the field with respect to the regulation of Federal election activity,” Golub wrote in his latest brief.
Golub argues the SEEC is preempted from regulating the federal get-out-the-vote activity featured in the mailers and is prohibited from investigating it.