Election campaigns are a clash of ideas, and legislation—which should protect free speech and ensure fair play—can at times seem less about protecting all speech than about chilling certain voices that its authors don't like.

HB 5589 makes some reasonable reforms to campaign finance law by allowing independent expenditure political committees to operate and by defining the parameters of those operations.

But it also makes several changes that impact the free speech rights of Connecticut citizens while unnecessarily forcing some nonprofit groups to identify their supporters.

Before the final 79-70 party line vote on the bill, supporters of the bill said its purpose was not about stopping people from spending their money on political races—just about knowing who was doing it.

Connecticut's campaign and election laws have some of the strictest open disclosure rules in the country, yet HB 5589 expands them in questionable ways.

Connecticut's campaign laws have some of the strictest open disclosure rules in the country, yet HB 5589 expands them in questionable ways.
Current law ensures that the public knows who is speaking in the public arena by requiring  organizations that make an independent expenditure file paperwork with the State Elections Enforcement Commission within 24 hours of committing to make that expenditure.

HB 5589 goes much further, requiring any such organization to have its board of directors vote on those expenditures, and post the vote results on the organization's website within 48 hours.

So why identify votes taken by individual board members?

Regardless of the purpose, many feel its effect will chill free speech by identifying individual members of an organization's board, when the organization—not individual members of its board—is the entity making the expenditure.

Curtailing Speech

That is not the only oddity in the bill designed to curtail speech.

At the end of every political ad you hear or see, the organization that paid for the advertisement is required to identify themselves and the organization.

Under HB 5589, this disclaimer will have to be voiced by the CEO of the organization, as well as have his or her picture displayed if it is a television or internet advertisement.

Exactly how does the public gain from hearing a CEO's voice or seeing their face?

Connecticut's election laws are transparent—and assure public disclosure—today.

They need not be complicated to the extent that they add new hurdles for those who choose to participate in the public square.

What's more, the bill may be subject to challenge in federal court.

Sponsors of the legislation, who readily acknowledge their disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the landmark 2010 Citizens United case, expressed their hope that HB 5589 will force just such a confrontation.

For more information, contact CBIA's Eric Gjede (860.480.1784) | @egjede