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Federal Court Dismisses Core Challenges to Connecticut’s Public Campaign Finance Law

Public Funding Advocates Hail Ruling on Constitutionality of Matching Provisions

March 22, 2008

For Immediate Release: March 21, 2008

Contact:            Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, 646–452–5637

                        Mike Webb, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–998–6746

Federal Court Dismisses Core Challenges to Connecticut’s Public Campaign Finance Law

Public Funding Advocates Hail Ruling on Constitutionality of Matching Provisions

CONNECTICUT—Today advocates of public campaign financing celebrated a litigation victory in their defense of Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance law, known as the Citizens’ Election Program (“CEP”). The CEP gives participating candidates a lump-sum grant of public funds as well as limited funds to match high spending by the candidates’ privately-financed opposition, including opponents and independent groups.  The federal trial court dismissed claims that the matching funds violated free speech rights of non-participating opponents and independent spenders, safeguarding an essential component of the CEP.

“By upholding the constitutionality of the CEP’s matching funds, the Court has preserved the ability of political candidates in the State of Connecticut to respond to voters, instead of special interest donors,” said Deborah Goldberg, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, which served as co-lead counsel for intervenors in the case.

“This ruling means that people interested in public service who do not have wealthy backers can still wage effective campaigns for public office,” stated Goldberg.

Enacted in late 2005, the Citizens’ Election Program provides volunteer participants a public grant for campaign spending, after meeting a threshold of demonstrated public support and agreeing to abide by a spending limit. Additional public funds are “triggered” when spending by a non-participating candidate exceeds the expenditure cap or when outside organizations make independent expenditures to assist the non-participating candidate.

Opponents of the law argued that, by providing additional matching funds, the law discouraged spending by non-participating candidates and their independent supporters. The Brennan Center and the State of Connecticut argued in their motion to dismiss, filed in February 2007, that there is no First Amendment right to speak free from response.  The court heard oral arguments on June 6, 2007.

In his ruling issued late yesterday, Judge Stefan Underhill agreed with the Brennan Center that providing these additional funds to a participating candidate does not hinder the free speech of his or her opponent. “An individual or candidate may decide, as a strategic matter, not to speak as a result of the campaign financing system, but he is in no way prohibited from exercising his right to free speech,” wrote Justice Underhill.

The Citizens’ Election Program was passed in the wake of the resignation and conviction of Governor Rowland and the prosecution of other top state officials for selling influence for campaign contributions and illegal gifts. In passing the law, the Connecticut General Assembly became the first state legislature in the nation to pass a full public financing law that applies to its own political campaigns. 

Judge Underhill allowed a challenge to provisions of the campaign finance law that differentiate between major and minor parties to proceed to trial. Summary judgment motions will be filed in that part of the case at the end of April. 

In Green Party of Connecticut v. Jeffrey Garfield, et al. the Brennan Center is joined by co-lead counsel from the New York office of Hogan & Hartson L.L.P., on behalf of Connecticut Common Cause and Connecticut Citizen Action.  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 Intervenors.

The Brennan Center has successfully defended state public financing laws in Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina. Click here for more information.