Court’s Campaign Finance Ruling Favors Free Speech
Gov. vetoes Assembly’s ‘fix’ of bill
Court rulings on Connecticut’s campaign finance laws are once again changing the state’s political landscape. A federal appeals court overturned two aspects of the Connecticut Citizens Election Program that limited free speech, and the legislature last week passed a bill to “fix” some provisions of the CEP the court threw out.
However, Gov. Rell vetoed the legislation, saying the remedy was unaffordable. Under the Connecticut Citizens Election Program, companies doing business with the state were banned from soliciting donations on behalf of candidates for state office.
The appeals court has now struck down that ban. (State contractors, however, still cannot directly donate to campaigns.) The court also boosted free speech in elections by throwing out the state’s ban on campaign contributions and solicitations from registered lobbyists.
Appeals court decisions were in response to the state’s challenge of a federal ruling last year that the CEP was unconstitutional because it discriminated against minor-party candidates.
Though the appeals court found no such discrimination in the CEP, it did find other problems with the CEP related to free speech. In addition to overturning the restrictions on state contractors and registered lobbyists, the appeals court threw out a “trigger” provision that allowed candidates using public financing to get more of the public funds if their non-publicly financed opponents went over certain spending thresholds.
The court determined that this aspect of the program would limit the free speech of higher-spending candidates.
The legislature in a special session last week addressed the appeals court’s decisions. First, in a response to the scuttling of the provision triggering additional grants, lawmakers increased the basic grants that qualifying gubernatorial candidates may receive.
And responding to the court allowing lobbyists to again contribute to candidates, the legislature limited those contributions up to $100.
Gov. Rell vetoed the bill primarily because of the doubling, from $3 million to $6 million, of basic grants to qualifying candidates for governor.
“Just because the money’s there doesn’t mean we should spend it,” said the Governor. She also objected to the provisions allowing lobbyists’ donations to count as qualifying contributions toward the CEP grants.
The legislature is expected to return to try to overturn the Governor’s veto. Lawmakers adopted the CEP in 2005 in an effort to limit the influence of special interests in state elections. Legislative candidates had first access to the voluntary, taxpayer-funded program in 2008. Candidates for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor were made eligible this year.
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