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State Election Regulators Say Dem Request Would ‘Cynically Circumvent’ CT Law

by | Oct 14, 2014 2:43pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2014

The State Elections Enforcement Commission told federal election regulators Tuesday that if the Connecticut Democratic Party was able to use federal funds on a mailing for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, it would “cynically circumvent our state’s carefully tailored pay-to-play state contractor provisions.”

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The Connecticut Democratic Party asked the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 1 to allow it to use funds donated to its federal account to pay for a mailer that says “On November 4th, Vote for Dan Malloy for Governor.” A portion of the $3.8 million in the federal account has come from state contractors banned from giving money to state campaigns.

State election regulators said what the Connecticut Democratic Party is essentially trying to do is to get federal election regulators to issue a decision that would allow it to pre-empt Connecticut laws that ban clean election candidates from receiving state contractor donations. Its objection to federal regulators outlines the history of corruption in the state, which led to passage of the Citizens Election Program in 2005.

An attorney for the Connecticut Democratic Party who filed the request with the Federal Election Commission argued that the mailing, which prominently features Malloy, also includes get-out-the-vote information. A portion of federal party funds that can be used for get-out-the-vote efforts.

But state election regulators said it would be wrong for federal regulators to assume they have jurisdiction over the mailing because it “glibly” includes “a stray get-out-the-vote message.”

“The state party is essentially requesting that the Commission issue an advisory opinion stating that Connecticut may not bring an enforcement action against it for choosing to break Connecticut’s campaign finance laws by using state contractor money to pay for the portion of the Malloy mailer that is dedicated to promoting the success of a Connecticut publicly-financed candidate for Governor — an activity that is expressly prohibited by Connecticut state law,” the SEEC wrote in its objection to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.

The Connecticut Democratic Party uses a footnote to explain that it’s been separating state contractors from non-state contractors in its federal fund.

“Although it is not germane to the proper disposition of this request, it is worth noting that the CDSCC [Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee] has established a segregated federal account in which it deposits contributions from known state contractors. This account is not used for any communication that advocates the election or defeat of any state or local candidate and is used exclusively for federal and administrative purposes in order to ensure compliance with the spirit of Connecticut law.”

But state regulators say they have no way of knowing that.

“It is impossible to know whether the money they are accepting and using is state contractor money forbidden by state law to be used in support of state candidates. If they were going to effectively remove state contractor funds, they would use Levin funds as allowed under federal law,” the SEEC wrote in its objection Tuesday.

Connecticut Democratic Party spokesman Devon Puglia called the issue a conflict between state and federal law.

“That’s why we’re seeking clarification. The FEC requires — requires — dollars for these mailers to be used out of our federal account, while SEEC has stated a contrary position. We follow all rules, laws, and regulations, so any suggestion or insinuation to the contrary is entirely without merit. Tom Foley is the only person in this race who has paid a fine for violating the law — $16,000 for conducting an illegal poll,” Puglia said in an email.

Common Cause also issued its objection to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s request Tuesday.

“The Democratic State Central Committee is hoping to take advantage of more lax federal rules on fundraising by calling the mailer GOTV activity,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for programs and strategy of the national office of Common Cause. “The mailer is clearly a campaign piece designed to persuade voters to vote for Governor Malloy. The GOTV portion of the card is a mere 15 out of 195 words in small font in the corner of the mailer.  Based on the FEC’s rules, those 15 words do not magically transform a mailer that promotes the re-election of Dannel Malloy into a GOTV piece.”

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause’s Connecticut chapter, said they appreciate the Democratic Party’s claim that no state contractor funds would be used in the mailing, but agreed with the SEEC that “there is no way to verify the state party’s compliance with this claim.”

Common Cause is the second good government group to file an objection to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s request. Their objection is in addition to those written by nine other citizens and two Republican caucuses.

The deadline to file an objection to the request was extended until Tuesday because the deadline fell on a Sunday and Monday was a holiday.

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