Frustration Over Campaign Settlement Lingers
The investigation into whether the Connecticut Democratic Party properly used federal campaign funds to pay for a mailer featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ended last week when the party settled with election regulators.
Frustrated with the settlement, Republican lawmakers are continuing to call on the governor to release the emails the State Elections Enforcement Commission was seeking as part of their subpoena.
“If those who agreed to this settlement have any intention of improving Connecticut’s laws and strengthening clean election protections then the emails must be released,” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano and Sen. Michael McLachlan said. “The settlement is in no way sufficient to clarify and strengthen state law. This agreement obstructs transparency and prevents the whole truth from being shared with the public.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones frustrated.
Attorney Dan Klau, who has given money to the Democratic Party, wrote on his CT Good Governance blog that “rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, the settlement creates the appearance that a major political party in Connecticut can ‘buy’ its way out of an embarrassing investigation by the chief regulator of our state campaign finance laws.”
The Connecticut Democratic Party agreed as part of the settlement to pay the state $325,000 — the largest penalty the SEEC has ever imposed.
“There is nothing nefarious about the settlement. But that is what it looks like, and appearances are often just as important as reality,” Klau said.
He said the SEEC should have let the judge make a decision in the case.
This was a case about “principles, not money,” Klau said. “Sometimes it is necessary to have a court resolve controverted legal issues, particularly when one of the issues is whether a state regulator even has the authority to conduct certain types of investigations. This was such a case.”
He said the settlement further erodes citizen confidence in government.
Republican lawmakers argued that’s why the governor should release the documents.
“Releasing these emails will provide us with the whole picture, so that we as legislators can determine what legislative changes we need to prevent the same violation from occurring again,” Fasano and McLachlan said.
However, Common Cause, the good government group which criticized the Democratic Party’s decision to send the mailers, hailed the settlement.
“The settlement affirms that candidates for governor and the legislature cannot accept aid from companies doing business with the state; that was the intent of the law that we and our allies worked so hard to pass after the scandals of the Rowland administration,” Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said.
Hobert Flynn lobbied hard for the 2005 passage of Connecticut’s clean elections program, following former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland’s resignation and guilty plea for taking gifts from state contractors.
There may be some who are frustrated that the Democratic Party was not found to have violated state law, but a protracted legal battle does not ensure the integrity of the Citizens’ Election Program, Hobert Flynn said. And beyond Connecticut, the deal sends Democrats and Republicans alike a message that states can pass and enforce campaign finance laws that are tougher than federal law.
Klau said the settlement ends only the dispute between the SEEC and the Connecticut Democratic Party. If another candidate or party engages in similar conduct then it can raise the same legal objections as the Democratic Party and the underlying law remains unsettled.
The Connecticut Democratic Party said it agrees with Common Causes assessment of the settlement.
“This settlement is a positive step forward for the state of Connecticut and the Democratic Party,” Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said. “If Senator Fasano is actually interested in resolving a fundamental conflict between state and federal law and sustaining the Citizens’ Election Program — we would welcome him to the cause and call on him to ask CT GOP Chairman JR Romano to sign this agreement. Otherwise, Senator Fasano can’t have it both ways as he attacks state regulators for their work to clarify the law and preserve the CEP at the same that he claims to be supportive of its sustainability.”