What You're Not Supposed To Know About The Campaign Finance Law of CT
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By Mike DeRosa
You have probably heard that the state of Connecticut recently passed a campaign finance law. But did you know that all political parties in Connecticut are equal, but some political parties are more equal than others when it comes to Connecticut's campaign finance law? If one reads the corporate media you come away with the impression that CT has the best campaign finance law in the United States. It certainly is the best campaign finance law for Democrats and Republicans that money can buy.
A federal lawsuit against the CT campaign finance law was submitted almost three years ago (Green Party of Connecticut, ACLU, Libertarian Party of CT et al VS. Jeffrey Garfield) and is coming to a conclusion in the next few weeks. The Attorney General of CT and The Brennan Center for Justice are representing the defendants in the case, the SEEC (the CT agency that administers this law), CT Common Cause, the CT Citizens Action Group and others, by defending the constitutionally of the present CT campaign finance law.
The Green Party and the other plaintiffs in this case believe that the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates against third parties and independent candidates by requiring the plaintiffs to collect huge numbers of signatures on petitions to qualify for funding under the Citizens Election Program (CEP) while Democrats and Republicans are required to collect NO signatures under this law.
How many signatures are required for a minor party to gain access to a CEP grant? For a full grant under the CT CEP minor parties need to collect the signatures of 20% of the people who voted in the last election for each office sought. In the 2006 CT race for governor 1,123,466 total votes were cast for that office. This means that in order to get the full grant for governor in 2010 the Green Party of CT would have to collect 224,683 valid signature to qualify for a state grant. How many signatures do the Democratic or Republican candidates have to collect? The answer is none. To make things worse all signatures have to be checked by the town clerks of CT and during the last presidential election cycle rejection rates were so high that it required almost double the amount of signatures to qualify for a place on the ballot. This means that minor parties must actually collect over 400,000 net signatures to qualify for a 3 million dollar grant for their candidate for governor. A 20% valid signature requirement for access to a full grant is also in effect for all other state wide offices and all legislative races in CT.
This is not campaign finance reform, this it is campaign finance deform. Some people call it the no Democrat or Republican left behind law. In addition Democrats and Republicans are allowed to get generous grants for primaries but minor parties are banned from getting such money.
Finally, all candidates for governor have to additionally raise $250,000 in order to enter the CEP system and qualify for funding. This additional requirement is extraordinarily high when compared to similar state campaign finance laws found in Maine and in Arizona.
The CEP system does allow minor parties to get a third or two thirds of the maximum grant if they collect signatures from 10% or 15% (respectively) of the people who voted for governor in the last election. The CEP also eliminates the petitioning requirement for minor parties during the next election cycle if the candidate for governor (or other state office) gets between 10% to 20% of votes in the election. Minor parties can't get fair access to the grants because of the draconian petitioning requirements and without upfront access to the CEP they can't effectively and fairly compete during and after the election making it very unlikely they will ever reach the 10%-20% election percentages required to eliminating petitioning requirements. If a Republican or Democrat get less than 20% of the total vote in an election (which happened on numerous occasions in 2008) they can still access CEP funding without petitioning because they are in a protected class called "Major Party". Minor parties contend that the state though it's discriminatory, unfair, and unreasonable access procedures is arbitrarily giving more free speech rights to major parties and is thereby diminishing and shouting out the free speech rights of minor parties. Minor parties believe that the state of CT does not have a compelling public interest in picking the winners and losers of an election by creating discriminatory and capricious requirements for access to CEP grants.
The cornerstone of good campaign finance law is the concept of putting a cap on the total amount of money that can be spent in a campaign by an individual CEP candidate during an election season. The CT campaign finance law allows all political party town committees in CT and every state wide major party PAC to donate thousands of dollars legally to candidates who have already gotten extremely generous grants from the CEP. While the law bans all other PAC money it advances the spurious concept that political party PACs and political party town committees should have special rights to continue to donate to candidates who are already getting high grants from the CEP. Clearly the fix is in, and the major parties have discovered how to eliminate their minor party opponents by keeping them out of the political stadium though the use of a law that violates the 1st and 14th amendment (equal protection provision) of the U.S. Constitution. This law is designed to be exportable to every state in the Union and the defendants in CT have said publicly that they are going to do just that.
The final result of this law will be to destroy any meaningful participation for most minor party candidates in CT state elections and will lead to the final destruction of any minor party that does not cross endorse major party candidates as a general political strategy. It is ironic that a law that was created to increase political participation has been crafted in such a way as to actually decrease the participation of most minor parties and independent candidates. It is the opinion of many people that this law will essentially put independent third parties out of business in CT. Such prima facie harm finds it roots in a disdain for the independence of political parties, a desire to limit the ability of voters to hear a full range of options during an election, and the invention of a new and more sophisticated form of political corruption. They don't call the state of Connecticut "Corrupticut" for no reason. But what did you expect from the "Constitution" State?
Mike DeRosa is a CT radio journalist and co-chair of the Green Party of CT
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Election Integrity
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