For Immediate Release
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Jonathan Rosen, (646) 452–5637 /
Common Cause and Citizen Action, State of Connecticut, Move to Dismiss Court Challenge to Connecticut Campaign Finance Law
Hartford, CT—Three former candidates and two good government groups joined the State of Connecticut today in urging a federal court to dismiss a legal challenge to aspects of Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program (CEP).
The motion to be filed this afternoon before Judge Stefan Underhill seeks to dismiss a challenge to the public financing provisions of the CEP program. Under the law enacted in late 2005, the Citizens’ Election Program does not distribute funds to any and all candidates, but rather distributes funds based on demonstrations of public support. Minor party candidates and others have challenged that and other portions of the law – alleging that it discriminates against their right to be heard at election time.
Lawyers for Common Cause and Citizen Action rejected that contention today.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that a candidate can reasonably be required to demonstrate some minimal level of public support before taxpayers are called upon to finance her campaign,” said Suzanne Novak, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center and lead counsel for the groups seeking to join the State of Connecticut in defending the CEP. “Connecticut voters deserve the chance to elect people who aren’t beholden to lobbyists and big money and this law will level the playing field and give regular people a fair shot at being heard in Hartford.”
Novak noted that in 1976 the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo upheld a federal public financing system for presidential elections that is very similar to Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program in its treatment of minor party candidates.
Plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the law have argued that minor party candidates would be unable to qualify for public financing under the program. Recent history of minor party election performance in Connecticut shows otherwise. In urging the court to dismiss the Green Party’s challenge to this portion of the Citizens’ Election Program, attorneys for the State and good government groups noted that at least ten minor party candidates (two candidates for state senate and eight candidates for state representative) received more than 10% of the vote in their respective races for the Connecticut Legislature in 2006—making them or another candidate from their parties eligible for public funding in 2008 under the CEP program.
Moreover, a 2006 research report by the Connecticut Legislature’s Office of Legislative Research entitled “Past Performance of Petitioning and Minor Party Candidates in Connecticut” reveals that from 1998–2004 twenty-four minor or petitioning candidates received at least 10% of the vote in their respective races.
The motion filed today points out that one former minor party candidate seeking to strike down the program would have, himself, qualified for public financing under the CEP program. In 2004, S. Michael DeRosa received 11.36% of the vote in his race for State Senator on the Green Party line in the First District – more than the amount needed to qualify under the CEP. Had the CEP program existed in 2004, DeRosa or another Green Party candidate running in that district in 2006 would have been eligible to receive up to $28,333 – nearly fifty times more money than the $573 that Mr. DeRosa raised for his own 2004 Senate run.
“Not only is the public financing system in Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program constitutional, it will put real money into the campaigns of scores of minor party candidates in Connecticut each election year,” said Andy Sauer, Executive Director of Common Cause Connecticut.
One of the founders of Connecticut’s Green Party, who is seeking to join the lawsuit in defense of the program, called for the court to uphold the program – despite the limits minor parties would face accessing public financing under the law.
“I think the public financing program would allow people like me, who are interested in public service, but don’t have wealthy friends, to have a real shot at public office,” said Tom Sevigny a former candidate for State Representative and State Senate on the Green Party line. “While all viable candidates should be permitted to participate in the program, I believe it’s perfectly reasonable to require minor parties to demonstrate that they have the support of enough people before we start handing out our tax dollars to them.”
The Brennan Center has successfully defended state public financing laws in Arizona and Maine and is currently defending North Carolina’s public campaign finance program. Joining the Brennan Center as co-lead counsel in the Connecticut case will be a team of lawyers from the New York office of Hogan & Hartson L.L.P., a leading national law firm, based in Washington, with substantial experience in litigation concerning voting rights and campaign finance. Attorneys from the Campaign Legal Center, Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry LLP, WilmerHale and Democracy 21 in Washington, DC also are part of the litigation team representing the proposed defendant intervenors.
In addition to challenging the public financing provisions, the suit by the Green Party and other groups seeks to strike down the contribution limits and contribution restrictions imposed under the Citizens’ Election Program. The State of Connecticut, Common Cause and Citizen Action are not moving to dismiss those causes of action at this time and anticipate litigating those issues before Judge Underhill in the near future.
A copy of the Motion to Dismiss submitted by the State of Connecticut, Common Cause and Citizen Action will be available this afternoon at www.brennancenter.org.
For Immediate Release