• Two Conservatives Stand Up To Bureaucratic Bullying And Win

    Joe Markley And Rob Sampson Put The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) In Its Place

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    Former State Senator Joe Markley and State Senator Rob Sampson just won a huge victory for free speech when the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled unanimously that their campaign literature did not break any campaign finance laws.

    First some background. In 2005, Connecticut passed “The Citizens’ Election Law” (without the appropriate apologies to George Orwell) that allowed politicians to use taxpayer money to finance their campaigns. The law established limits on how much money would be allotted and required prospective candidates to raise a specific amount of money from small contributions – mostly from their constituents. For example, a candidate running for the State Senate can receive $51,100 (more if there is a primary) from the taxpayers if he or she raises $13,000 in aliquots of $5 to $320 from contributors who overwhelming reside in the district.

    But while the intention of this law was to “get money out of politics,” it has not been particularly effective. Trying to keep money out of the hands of politicians is like trying to keep squirrels out of a bird feeder that is surrounded by trees. Good luck.

    Furthermore, the law is so complex that it discourages candidates from running. It does not prevent outside interest groups from running advertisements on issues that benefit certain candidates. But the big loophole is that candidates are not required to participate.

    This was obvious when then candidate Ned Lamont literally bought the Governor’s Mansion in 2018. The Citizens’ Election Law maxes out spending for a gubernatorial election at around $1,500,000 for a primary and about $6,000,000 for the general election. Lamont’s great grandfather was the right-hand man of J.P. Morgan. Lamont and his wife are worth over $500 million.

    Lamont and his opponent Bob Stefanowski refused to participate in the Citizens’ Election Law and mostly self-financed, spending over $40,000,000 race with Lamont spending $26,000,000. In fact, when a poll showed Stefanowski ahead, Lamont just grabbed another $8,000,000 of his money – a rounding error to him – and eked out a 3.2% victory.

    Another problem with this law is deciding how candidates can spend the money once allotted. This is where Markley and Sampson become relevant.

    The fearless Joe Markley and Rob Sampson attending their Supreme Court Hearing

    Not only are the Connecticut taxpayers being fleeced by financing campaigns, but they are also being fleeced by paying the salaries of the bureaucratic apparatus, the SEEC (State Elections Enforcement Commission), that interprets and enforces this law.

    While campaigning in 2014, Markley and Sampson attacked their opponents for being supporters of the then governor, Dan Malloy. This makes perfect sense. But the SEEC deigned this was a violation of their rules in which a candidate may only attack his opponent, and not other candidates.

    Democrats complained to the SEEC that 27 Republican candidates were violating this law. The SEEC threatened to fine these candidates thousands of dollars if they did not admit fault and discontinue doing so. Twenty-five of them caved in, but not the intrepid Markley and Sampson who believed the SEEC’s opinion violated their First Amendment rights.

    But they had a problem. The SEEC is a bureaucratic apparatus with literally infinite amounts of money to harass anyone who challenges their authority. Led by Attorney Michael Brandi, who rakes in an taxpayer-financed annual salary of $133,000 not including Cadillac health insurance, they demanded Markley and Sampson pay thousands of dollars in fines. Markley and Sampson would have to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire lawyers to stand up to the SEEC bullies.

    Fortunately, a conservative legal foundation from Virginia agreed to take their case. They lost initially to a district judge but when the case went to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Markley and Sampson were vindicated with a 7-0 decision.

    Markley, who attended the oral arguments, felt they had a good chance of winning when he witnessed one of the judges, Andrew McDonald, vociferously questioning the SEEC’s attorneys. McDonald, although a Democratic appointee, is a former State Senator himself. And he thought it was ridiculous that a political candidate cannot tie that candidate to an unpopular governor or president.

    But conservatives who applaud this decision should realize the Democrats may have the last laugh. This will enable Democratic candidates to attack their Republican opponents as Trump supporters without having to worry about the SEEC accusing them of violating their rules. At this point, Trump is unpopular in a few parts of the state, especially in Fairfield County. The Democrats could pick up a seat or two because of this ruling.

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    Dr. Joseph Bentivegna

    Dr. Joseph Bentivegna is an ophthalmologist in private practice who ran for Congress and US Senate in Connecticut. You can subscribe to his Substack here: https://substack.com/@jfbentivegna

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