Public Financing Ruling in Connecticut Underscores Need for More Disclosure: Statement of Tara Malloy, Associate Legal Counsel
While we are disappointed with the overall outcome of the appeals in Green Party of Connecticut v. Garfield, we are pleased by certain aspects of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ opinions, which serve to correct errors in the district court’s decision.
Nonetheless, the ruling undermines Connecticut’s comprehensive campaign finance reforms enacted in 2005 in response to a string of high-profile corruption scandals involving state elected officials, including former Connecticut Governor John Rowland. The Court’s decision thus underscores the need for comprehensive disclosure laws on the state and federal level to expose the pay-to-play systems which prevail in Congress and in so many legislatures across the nation.
On the positive side, the Court of Appeals upheld certain provisions banning state contractors and associated individuals from making campaign contributions to candidates for state office. Also, reversing the lower court, the Court of Appeals found that under “exacting” scrutiny, Connecticut’s Citizen Election Program does not unconstitutionally discriminate against minor-party candidates. That strikes us as a good sign for upholding public financing systems in the future, particularly those programs without so-called "trigger provisions" (where participating candidates receive additional public funding when certain conditions are triggered, such as when their nonparticipating opponent spends above a certain threshold).
We are disappointed that the Court of Appeals struck down the ban on lobbyists making campaign contributions, and the ban on contractors and lobbyists soliciting contributions on behalf of candidates for state office. But the Court of Appeals suggested that more targeted restrictions of such activities could be enacted that may pass constitutional muster, and we hope the Legislature will do so. Decisions like these, permitting lobbyists to make campaign contributions and allowing lobbyists and government contractors to solicit contributions, demonstrate why it is so important to enact the DISCLOSE Act at the federal level and similar disclosure laws at the state level. Deep pocketed special interests are hard at work in our nation’s capital and in state capitals across the country, and it is vital to our democracy that we know who is attempting to buy access to our elected officials.