Judge shuts down taxpayer funded campaigns in Connecticut

A federal judge ruled Connecticut’s system of taxpayer financed campaigns unconstitutional late Thursday, immediately shutting down a flawed program which proponents held up as a national model.

“Connecticut’s failed experiment with taxpayer financed campaigns is thankfully over,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “The paradox of ‘clean elections’ is that incumbent politicians write the laws to either shut out minor candidates and challengers or make it too easy to grab taxpayer cash. It’s time to return to a true system of voluntary campaign funding – donations from citizens to candidates they support.”

The Green and Libertarian parties sued the state after the Citizens’ Election Program was implemented in 2005, arguing that the law favored major party candidates and restricted minor party challengers. The program went into effect in 2008, doling out $9.2 million to candidates.

The Citizens’ Election Program (CEP) “imposes an unconstitutional, discriminatory burden on minor party candidates’ First Amendment-protected right to political opportunity,” according to the ruling.

Judge Stefan Underhill ruled the program provides “windfall” funding to candidates, artificially enhances the strength of candidates by disregarding their public support, uses overly-strict qualifying criteria for minor party candidates and further discriminates against minor party candidates with its disbursement formulas. The judge also ruled the CEP’s expenditure and independent expenditure provisions unconstitutional.

The rulings bars Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and State Elections Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeffrey Garfield from enforcing and operating the Citizens’ Election Program for statewide and state legislative races.

Garfield testified just last month before the House Administration Committee, calling the program “an unqualified success” and explaining how Connecticut’s system should serve as a model for a national scheme of congressional taxpayer financed campaigns.

“Hopefully, Congress and states around the country considering similar programs will realize that schemes like this which handout taxpayer money to candidates are not successes simply because their proponents say so, but unconstitutional restrictions on candidates and citizens’ free speech rights,” Parnell said.

Beyond the scope of this case, the Center for Competitive Politics has criticized Connecticut taxpayer financed campaigns for looking the other way while candidates committed fraud to receive public money, handing out money to candidates with no challengers and failing to achieve stated goals like making races more competitive.

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) is a non-profit organization which seeks to protect the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly, and petition.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.