CT News Junkie: Special Session Tensions Arise Over Clean Election Law Changes

September 25, 2023

By: Hugh McQuaid

The agenda for a special legislative session scheduled for next week became decidedly less bipartisan on Friday amid Republican opposition to a new item changing how state election law treats campaign contributions made through online fundraising platforms.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s proclamation calling lawmakers back to Hartford next Tuesday for a special session on confirming his nomination of attorney Nora Dannehy to the state Supreme Court and moving Connecticut presidential primary date included a new line related to campaign finance law.

“Whereas, the act of solicitation over the internet for a contribution to any committee, as defined under current campaign law, should not be considered an expenditure under the law,” Lamont wrote.

The change, according to multiple sources, was requested by Democratic leaders in the state Senate and was designed to allow candidates seeking to participate in the state’s public campaign finance system to use online platforms like ActBlue, a Democratic donation processor.

The state clean election system requires candidates to agree to certain rules governing how they raise and spend money. Currently, those rules prevent them from using online contributions collected through platforms like ActBlue.

In a statement Friday evening, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said that Democrats had relied on small donations to run campaigns while Republicans embraced donations from wealthy donors and super PACs.

“Connecticut is committed to our election laws, but we are the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow small donations through a certain internet platform,” Duff said. “This proposal will allow more people to participate in the electoral process, with a full disclosure that honors Connecticut’s model campaign finance system.”

Earlier Friday, Republican lawmakers issued a press release condemning the change. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said the provision would create a “dark money corruption loophole” amid an ongoing investigation into allegations of absentee ballot fraud in Bridgeport’s Democratic primary earlier this month. The agenda also includes a provision authorizing an election monitor for Bridgeport’s November election.

In an interview Friday, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora called the fundraising provision “disturbing” and predicted it would cause Tuesday’s bill to be contested in the House.

“This is going to cause every single Republican to vote against this legislation and I think if the provision stays in, you are going to see a long and protracted debate because it’s scary to me that the majority party would even contemplate putting in this kind of language, that brings dark money into campaigns, in a special session the public and the experts have no opportunity to comment on,” Candelora said.

The Republicans were not alone in their objections to the provision. In a Friday email to Lamont and legislative leaders, Michael Brandi, the executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said that the bill would not bring ActBlue into compliance with state law and would amount to making major changes to the Citizens Election Program without a public hearing to vet them.

“The proposed language aggressively erodes the bargain made between the government and the taxpayers with regard to the CEP and the financial support of candidates,” Brandi wrote.

In an interview, Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s committee on election policy, said lawmakers were having conversations with regulators at the State Elections Enforcement Commission to address any concerns about changes contemplated during the special session.

“Neither I or any of my Democratic colleagues have any intention of taking any measure that would undermine our nation-leading clean elections program,” Blumenthal said.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Lamont’s chief spokesman Adam Joseph said the governor would not approve any policy weakening the clean election system.

“Connecticut’s clean election laws serve as a national model,” Joseph said. “Governor Lamont will not sign any legislation that weakens disclosure rules or rolls back our Citizens’ Election Program.”

Special Session Tensions Arise Over Clean Election Law Changes