A lobbyist convicted of bribing a state official would not be permanently prohibited from receiving public campaign funds, nor a convicted murderer, according to a lawsuit expected to be filed this week in federal district court on behalf of Mayor Joe Ganim who’s seeking relief from a state ruling that blocks his participation in Connecticut’s Citizens Election Program based on his 2003 conviction on public corruption charges. Ganim is exploring a 2018 run for governor.
Louis George, a lawyer with Hasset & George, argues in the complaint that the State Elections Enforcement Commission which approves public campaign grants violated Ganim’s constitutional rights in a narrowly tailored provision of campaign finance law approved in 2013. The genesis of the provision was state charges leveled against former State Senator Ernie Newton for violations of campaign finance laws during his 2012 legislative run. Newton is appealing his conviction and subsequent six-month sentencing. He’s also a candidate for City Council this year. The original public money law was passed following the conviction of former Governor John Rowland on public corruption charges.
What’s at stake? Millions in public campaign cash, more than $1 million in a Democratic primary and more than $6 million for the general election if Ganim gets that far. Under the CEP program gubernatorial candidates must raise $250,000 in donations of $100 and less to receive a primary jackpot of $1,354,250 based on the 2014 statewide election cycle. The SEEC indexes the size of the grant each election year.
This lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of these two provisions of Connecticut General Statutes:
(5) Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, no candidate may apply to the State Elections Enforcement Commission for a grant from the fund under the Citizens’ Election Program if such candidate has been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, in a court of competent jurisdiction, any (A) criminal offense under this title unless at least eight years have elapsed from the date of the conviction or plea or the completion of any sentence, whichever date is later, without a subsequent conviction of or plea to another such offense, or (B) a felony related to the individual’s public office, other than an offense under this title in accordance with subparagraph (A) of this subdivision.
And section 9-706(b)(12), which requires a candidate applying for CEP funds to execute a written certification stating in part:
The candidate has never been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, in a court of competent jurisdiction, a felony related to the individual’s public office, other than a criminal offense under this title in accordance with subdivision (11) of this subsection.
Ganim is not prohibited from running for governor. He’s barred from public campaign dollars for the voluntary program. If he presses on without public funds he can raise it the old-fashioned way through a maximum personal contribution of $3,500 for governor. Since inception of CEP about 10 years ago no candidate for statewide office has been successful running outside of public dollars. The lawsuit asserts the law and SEEC decision creates an unfair hardship for candidates such as Ganim who’ll spend most of his time raising money while qualifying public grant recipients have no such burden.
In addition the lawsuit argues that prohibiting Ganim from CEP fails to accomplish the intent of the statute encouraging the expenditure of funds without assistance from special interest groups, or anyone who might expect later favor.
The complaint cites for relief the First Amendment regarding a person’s freedom of association and freedom of speech including the right to participate freely in political activities such as elections. It also asserts the law banning Ganim undermines the CEP’s goals of combating public corruption and promoting clean elections.
The lawsuit defendant is Michael Brandi, executive director and general counsel for the State Elections Enforcement Commission in his official capacity.