Judge dismisses GOP effort to block Democrats’ use of federal funds for Malloy campaign

A Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the state Republican Party and designed to block Connecticut Democrats from using federal campaign funds to support Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election bid.

Judge Antonio Robaina ruled that the state GOP has not exhausted all available remedies – a reference to its pending complaint before the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

“Because the plaintiff failed to exhaust the administrative remedy available to it prior to bringing the present action before the Superior Court, and because no exception to the exhaustion requirement applies, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim,” Robaina wrote.

The SEEC has blasted the Democrats’ plan as an effort to circumvent a state law which bans contributions to state races from state contractors. But the SEEC also has indicated it won’t have time to process the GOP’s complaint before Election Day. Staff attorney Joshua Foley said the investigation is continuing.

The state Democratic Party was brief in its comments. “This was the result we expected,” party spokesman Devon Puglia said.

Connecticut GOP spokesman Zak Sanders said, “the court’s decision in no way signifies that Governor Malloy and the Connecticut Democratic Party did not violate the law. On the contrary, it says that before being brought to court, the SEEC should investigate and adjudicate this matter. And the SEEC has already confirmed its belief that Dan Malloy and the state Democratic Party have violated state election law.”

The Connecticut Democratic Party’s “efforts to circumvent strong state laws are at odds with both the public good and the clear intent of the citizens of Connecticut,” the state commission wrote in a letter last month to the Federal Elections Commission, which it hoped would block use of the funds on the gubernatorial race. “They are justified by neither the letter nor the spirit of the federal law. The SEEC is disappointed to see a state party committee utilizing such a tactic and respectfully requests that this Commission reject the effort in its entirety.”

Federal campaign finance law requires that many expenses that support state and federal candidates be paid through the state parties’ federal account, leading the parties to use their federal accounts as their major fundraising tool.

But Connecticut has many restrictions on state campaign spending, including a ban on use of contributions from state contractors. But contractors can and do give to the state parties’ federal accounts.

Malloy and Democratic Party officials have argued that the law isn’t as clear as the GOP and SEEC officials contend.

“This is fundamentally a challenge of conflicting guidance — federal law says one thing, state law says another,” Puglia said in mid-October when discussing why the Democratic Party was seeking clarification from federal election officials. “ … The FEC requires — requires — dollars for these mailers to be used out of our federal account, while SEEC has stated a contrary position. “We follow all rules, laws, and regulations, so any suggestion or insinuation to the contrary is entirely without merit.”

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