Once again, a statewide political campaign moves into a courtroom

First, it was Susan Bysiewicz. Now, it’s Michael C. Fedele. For the second time this year, the fate of a major candidate for statewide office is in the hands of a Hartford Superior Court judge.

Judge Julia L. Aurigemma will hear arguments at 2 p.m. today on an effort by Tom Foley to deny $2.18 million in public financing to Fedele, a rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

UPDATE: Judge to rule by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

If Foley is successful, he will deny Fedele the resources necessary to launch a television advertising campaign at a crucial juncture: the last four weeks before the GOP primary on Aug. 10.

Copy of Foley lawsuit

At the very least, Foley will use the courts to score political points over Fedele’s status as the only Republican candidate for governor to seek public financing under a program believed to be unpopular among Republican voters.

Beth Rotman

Beth Rotman of the SEEC.

Justin Clark, Foley’s campaign manager, suggested impropriety by the State Elections Enforcement Commission and the Fedele campaign.

With the commission’s approval, Fedele and his running mate, Mark D. Boughton, pooled their contributions to qualify Fedele for public financing.

To qualify, Fedele needed to raise $250,000 in donations of no more than $100. By pooling, Boughton now has foregone a chance to obtain public financing for his primary with Lisa Wilson-Foley.

The Foley campaign says that was improper.

“Only Hartford insiders like Mike Fedele and the bureaucrats at the SEEC could take clear language and make it say something completely different,” Clark said.

Beth Rotman, the director of the commission’s Citizens’ Election Program, does not appreciate her agency getting caught in a political cross-fire.

“It is unacceptable the agency is being attacked in a very direct way,” Rotman said. “If anything, the agency is a model of integrity.”

The commission unanimously approved a basic grant of $1.25 million and a supplemental grant of $937,500 for Fedele late Thursday afternoon. The supplemental grant was triggered by Foley’s spending.

Watching from the back row was Daniel J. Krisch, one of the lawyers who represented Bysiewicz, the Democratic secretary of the state, in her unsuccessful litigation to prove she had the requisite experience to run for attorney general. He declined to say why he was there.

Daniel J. Krisch

Daniel J. Krisch

On Friday, Krisch filed a lawsuit on behalf of Foley, the Republican front runner, seeking an injunction blocking state officials from processing the grants for Fedele, the lieutenant governor.

At an emergency hearing hours later, Judge Grant H. Miller refused to block the State Elections Enforcement Commission or the comptroller’s office from transferring the money to Fedele, who has agreed not to spend any of the funds until after the hearing today. He was unlikely to have access to the money before Tuesday, officials said.

The Foley campaign claimed that the elections commission had inappropriately allowed Fedele and Boughton to pool their qualifying contributions, but the commission noted that Foley had failed to formally object to an advisory opinion clearing the way for Fedele and  Boughton to join their finances.

The Fedele campaign reacted angrily to the lawsuit, accusing Foley of using the courts in an effort to hamper a challenger’s campaign. Without the public financing, Fedele is unlikely at this late date to raise sufficient funds to compete in the primary with Foley and Oz Griebel, the president of the MetroHartford Alliance.

“It seems if he can’t win by campaigning, he’s trying to win by suing,” said Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Fedele.

Foley’s objections to his Republican opponent’s participation in the Citizens’ Election Program are three-fold.

First, Clark says about 10 percent of the $250,000 in donations raised between Fedele and Boughton should not be counted.

The donation limit is $100 to a campaign to qualify for public financing, but Clark says $24,000 was raised by Fedele and Boughton by each of them receiving the maximum donation from the same people.

“This violates the letter and spirit of the law,” he said.

Another question being raised is whether non-party endorsed candidates are allowed to team with endorsed candidates to receive public grants as a team. Boughton is the endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor, while Foley was endorsed by the GOP convention for governor.

“It’s unclear if they are even allowed to have a joint fundraising committee,” he said.

The final objection is whether Fedele should qualify for a supplemental grant, since Clark says the law says only spending after the party’s nominating convention is to be counted towards these grants.

Clark says Foley has not spent enough money since the May convention to qualify Fedele-Boughton for the almost $1 million additional grant.