A little more than a year ago, Jerry Labriola, then Chairman of the State Republican Party, filed a lawsuit and elections complaint that accused the State Democratic Party of producing an ad that had illegally used federal campaign contributions to support the re-election of Dannel Malloy as Governor.
A Connecticut law passed after the State House of Representatives had commenced impeachment proceedings against then Governor John Rowland for political corruption barred state contractors from contributing to politicians with whom they might be doing business. The law was widely hailed by good-government advocates – including nearly all the editorial boards of state newspapers -- as a political corruption prophylactic.
The questionable Malloy re-election ad contained a small notice directing people to polling places. That direction, Mr. Labriola suspected, was little more than a fig leaf intended to transform a re-election ad into a campaign contribution net that would capture forbidden contributions from state contractors and others who regularly do business with the state. A complaint was sent to the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), which subpoenaed e-mails issued by the State Democratic Party so that it might decide the issue. The State Democratic Party lawyered-up and refused to provide subpoenaed information, throwing the matter into Connecticut’s clogged court system.
The SEEC, represented by the Attorney General’s office, has argued that the matter subpoenaed is necessary to decide the issue before it. The state Democratic Party has argued that the requested information is over-broad and that the questionable ad was “legal” even though it may have violated – some more properly would say obliterated – Connecticut’s clean election law. Attorney General George Jepsen, once a Democratic Party Chairman, has prudently recused himself from the case, but his absence does not necessarily mean that his office will disinterestedly pursue the case.
No one doubts the purpose and purport of Connecticut’s clean election law. The law was passed to prevent pay-to-play schemes that for generations have corrupted both payers and players. No one doubts that the political ad in question provides an exception to Connecticut’s clean election law through which one might drive Santa Claus, his sleigh and eight reindeer, including Rudolph with his shiny nose. This is an exception that, far from proving the rule, voids it and allows the Friends of Politicians (FOPS) once again to buy elections.
Should anyone doubt that politicians are for sale, consider: Not only was Mr. Malloy elected in 2014 by appropriating $6.5 million in public financing, he also headed a multi-pronged “get out the vote” effort to drive state contributions, many provided by the usual pay-to-play suspects, into federal campaign coffers, rather as if the all Democratic members of Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional Delegation were in want of funds. Millionaire Congresspersons Rosa DeLauro and Dick Blumenthal already have campaign war chests stuffed with millions in ready cash, while their opponents are forced to beg for crumbs under the table.
“In 2013 and 2014, Democrats deposited 147 $10,000 checks — $1.47 million — into their federal account,” according to a story in CTMirror. The trick was to provide a bridge over which federal funds could travel into campaign coffers that state contractors and other FOPS were forbidden by law to swell with corrupt contributions forbidden by Connecticut’s Clean Campaign law. Where there is a will to corrupt, wealthy as Croesus incumbents will find a way.
The lawyer for the Democratic Party has raised in court two issues, both of which are red herrings: 1) that federal campaign laws, less restrictive than Connecticut’s campaign laws, should take precedence because federal laws reign supreme; and 2) that the Democratic Party, whose e-mails have been legally subpoenaed by the SEEC, should be able to determine the contents of the subpoena.
However, state political parties should be able, through laws and regulations, to chart a course without undue interference from an overweening federal government. The arrangement preferred by the State Democratic Party would destroy not only political parties but the very idea of a federated political system.
We know that Connecticut’s laws governing the purchase of guns are far more restrictive than comparable federal laws. Yet, we may be certain that U.S. Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy would not tolerate for a moment the absurd and ruinous notion that Connecticut’s highly restrictive gun laws have no legal force because they are more restrictive than Federal gun laws.
And of course Mr. Blumenthal, who for more than twenty years exercised his subpoena powers as Connecticut’s Attorney General, knows that allowing persons or businesses legally subpoenaed to determine the content of subpoenas would result in a pointless examination of truncated data. No examiner of data or prosecutor – Mr. Malloy used to be one – could perform his duties under such circumstances.
Fortunately, the judge who is to determine the case before him has shown signs of impatience with such tortuous arguments, and this gives us reason to believe that the case may be decided rightly, without reference to powerful parties. Justice, like God, should be "no respecter of persons."