State Greens sue to pull down law prohibitive to minor parties
By Mike DeRosa
The state of Connecticut recently passed a campaign finance law. It has shown however, that despite all political parties being equal, some are more equal than others when it comes to Connecticut’s campaign finance law. The corporate media gives the impression Connecticut has the best campaign finance law in the United States. For Democrats and Republicans, it certainly is the best campaign finance law money can buy.
A federal lawsuit against the Connecticut campaign finance law was submitted almost three years ago by the Green Party of Connecticut, ACLU, and Libertarian Party of Connecticut and is soon coming to a conclusion. Defending the constitutionality of the present Connecticut campaign finance law, the Attorney General of Connecticut and The Brennan Center for Justice are representing the defendants in the case, the SEEC (the Connecticut agency that administers this law), Connecticut Common Cause, the Connecticut Citizens Action Group and others.
The Green Party and the other plaintiffs in this case believe the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates against third parties and independent candidates by requiring the plaintiffs to collect huge numbers of signatures on petitions to qualify for funding under the Citizens Election Program (CEP), while Democrats and Republicans do not have to collect any signatures at all under this law.
How many signatures are required for a minor party to gain access to a CEP grant? For a full grant under the Connecticut CEP, minor parties need to collect the signatures of 20 percent of the people who voted in the last election for each office sought. In the 2006 Connecticut race for governor 1,123,466 total votes were cast for that office. This means in order to get the full grant for governor in 2010, the Green Party of Connecticut would have to collect 224,683 valid signatures to qualify for a state grant. How many signatures do the Democratic or Republican candidates have to collect? The answer is none.
To make things worse, all signatures have to be checked by the town clerks of Connecticut. During the last presidential election cycle, rejection rates were so high it required almost double the amount of signatures to qualify for a place on the ballot. This means minor parties must actually collect over 400,000 net signatures to qualify for a three million dollar grant for their candidate for governor. A 20 percent valid signature requirement for access to a full grant is also in effect for all other statewide offices and all legislative races in Connecticut.
In addition, Democrats and Republicans are allowed to get generous grants for primaries but minor parties are banned from getting such money. Also all candidates for governor have to additionally raise $250,000 in order to enter the CEP system and qualify for funding. This additional requirement is extraordinarily high when compared to similar state campaign finance laws found in Maine and in Arizona.
The CEP system does allow minor parties to get a third or two thirds of the maximum grant if they collect signatures from 10 to 15 percent (respectively) of the people who voted for governor in the last election. And the CEP eliminates the petitioning requirement for minor parties during the next election cycle if the candidate for governor (or other state office) gets between 10 and 20 percent of votes in the election.
Minor parties cannot get fair access to the grants because of the draconian petitioning requirements and without upfront access to the CEP they can’t effectively and fairly compete during and after the election. Therefore it is very unlikely they will ever reach the 10 to 20 percent election percentages required for eliminating petitioning requirements. If a Republican or Democrat gets less than 20 percent of the total vote in an election (which happened on numerous occasions in 2008), they can still access CEP funding without petitioning, because they are in a protected class called “Major Party.”
Minor parties contend that the state, through it’s discriminatory, unfair, and unreasonable access procedures, is arbitrarily giving more free speech rights to major parties. It is thereby diminishing and shouting out the free speech rights of minor parties. Minor parties believe the state of Connecticut does not have a compelling public interest in picking the winners and losers of an election by creating discriminatory and capricious requirements for access to CEP grants.
The cornerstone of good campaign finance law is the concept of putting a cap on the total amount of money that can be spent in a campaign by an individual CEP candidate during an election season. The Connecticut campaign finance law allows all political party town committees in Connecticut and every statewide major party political action committee (PAC) to donate thousands of dollars legally to candidates who have already gotten extremely generous grants from the CEP. While the law bans all other PAC money it advances the spurious concept that political party PACs and political party town committees should have special rights to continue to donate to candidates who are already getting high grants from the CEP. The major parties have discovered how to eliminate their minor party opponents by keeping them out of the political stadium though the use of a law that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments (equal protection provision) of the U.S. Constitution. This law is designed to be exportable to every state in the Union and the defendants in Connecticut have said publicly that they are going to do just that.
The final result of this law will be to destroy any meaningful participation for most minor party candidates in Connecticut state elections and will lead to the final destruction of any minor party that does not cross endorse major party candidates as a general political strategy. It is ironic a law created to increase political participation has been crafted in such a way as to actually decrease the participation of most minor parties and independent candidates. It is the opinion of many people this law will essentially put independents and third parties out of business in Connecticut. Such prima facie harm finds its roots in a disdain for the independence of political parties, a desire to limit the ability of voters to hear a full range of options during an election, and the invention of a new and more sophisticated form of political corruption. They don’t call the state of Connecticut “Corrupticut” for no reason. But what did you expect from the “Constitution” State?
Mike DeRosa is a Connecticut radio journalist and Co-chair of the Green Party of Connecticut. This article was originally published in the Summer 2007 issue of Green Pages.