Assistant AG: Democrats trying to ‘stonewall’

David S. Golub and Maura Murphy Osborne at a previous hearing.

CT-N (file photo)

David S. Golub and Maura Murphy Osborne at a previous hearing.

How the Connecticut Democratic Party came to solicit state contractors, regulated industries and beneficiaries of state aid for campaign contributions in 2014 is “highly privileged and confidential,” the party’s lawyer told a judge Tuesday.

David S. Golub, defending Democrats against an investigative subpoena, told Superior Court Judge Antonio C. Robaina in Hartford that the party has no obligation to disclose its fundraising strategy or internal communications.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has no right to the names of people who solicited campaign funds or the strategy for approaching donors, he said. Donors gave as much as $20,000 each in the two years prior to 2014 election, when the Democratic Party raised more than $7 million.

Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne, representing the commission, said the Democrats were trying to “stonewall and stymie the investigation.”

The commission is attempting to investigate whether the party illegally supported the re-election of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year with contributions from donors barred from giving to state campaigns.

Robaina heard final arguments Tuesday on a motion by the attorney general’s office for the judge to compel the party to produce emails, bank records and other documents subpoenaed by the elections commission.

“This court should order the enforcement of the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s subpoena sooner rather than later,” Osborne said.

Robaina, who gave the two lawyers free rein to spar for two hours, has 120 days to render a decision. The judge asked no questions, made no comments and gave no hint of whether he would facilitate or hobble what might be the most politically sensitive investigation ever opened by the commission.

In trying to quash the subpoena, Golub made arguments aimed at ending the investigation. He is challenging the commission’s jurisdiction and accusing it of trying to reach too deeply into the inner workings of the state’s dominant political party, violating its First Amendment rights.

The case is testing the strength of sweeping campaign finance reforms passed in 2005 after a corruption scandal toppled Gov. John G. Rowland: a ban on donations from state contractors, limits on lobbyist contributions and a voluntary system of publicly financed campaigns.

A central issue is conflicts between state and federal campaign finance law.

While Connecticut law bars state contractors from donating to state campaigns, federal law dictates the rules for raising and spending money that is used for get-out-the-vote efforts in federal election years, when state elections are also held.

The result is state parties maintain state and federal accounts. They are free to deposit state contractor contributions in the federal accounts, which provide significant support for state campaigns by helping deliver voters to the polls.

Essentially, the state has two sets of contradictory campaign financing rules: one provides public financing to candidates who agree to accept donations of no more than $100 and abide by spending limits that vary by office; the other allows state parties to accept maximum donations of $10,000 a year and spend unlimited amounts supporting their candidates.

Malloy benefitted from both systems. He is Connecticut’s first governor to win using public financing, defeating wealthy, self-funding opponents who outspent him in the Democratic primary and general election in 2010.

He was re-elected in 2014 with $6.5 million in public financing and the support of a party that financed a sophisticated get-out-the-vote machine with funds Malloy helped attract, beginning with more than $1.5 million in 2013. That was triple what the Democratic Party had collected four years earlier in the runup to the 2010 election, when it did not control the governor’s office.

Donors included state contractors, who gave to the party’s federal account. Executives at Northeast Utilities, a regulated industry and a state contractor, gave nearly $50,000 to the Democratic Party’s federal account at the urging of the company’s chief executive, Thomas J. May.

In 2013 and 2014, Democrats deposited 147 $10,000 checks — $1.47 million — into their federal account.

Golub said the Democrats had no choice under federal law but to use their federal account to underwrite the voter turnout effort that benefitted Malloy.

The Republican Party filed an elections complaint after Democrats used more than $200,000 from the federal account on direct mail that promoted Malloy, while also providing information on polling hours and how to get a ride to the polls.

Golub said federal law clearly required the the mail to be funded from the federal account, and it preempts the state commission from investigating.

Osborne said the issues the commission is investigating are broader and more complex than the direct mail, including the question of whether the party improperly used federal funds for the salaries of staffers who supported Malloy’s re-election.

“They have not yet been able to conduct any meaningful investigation at all,” she said.

Golub said records of contributions and expenditures are public, and the party provided the commission with bank records. But it should not be forced to turn over documents related to strategy and fundraising.

“When you want those things, you have transgressed beyond the proper lines of investigation,” Golub said.

Golub said the state commission was acting in bad faith by refusing to acknowledge that federal law preempts, at the very least, an inquiry into the mailers.

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