Source:  On the Wilder Side

Clean Elections On Trial: Day 1
Notes from the federal trial challenging Connecticut’s historic campaign finance reform law.
Hartford Advocate

For more than seven grueling hours in the wood-paneled courtroom, Lopez laid out a numbers-laden case to prove the law screws third parties and protects the ones in power. Lopez had one day to make his case to Underhill before the defendant state Elections Enforcement Commission and intervening defendants – New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause and Connecticut Citizen Action Group – get to present their side on Wednesday.

THE “INFERIOR MAJOR PARTY”

The gist of Lopez’s argument is this: The Citizens Election Program gives major parties a benefit that minor parties don’t have – and that’s unconstitutional. The benefit is guaranteed campaign cash, whether they perform well in elections or not.

As major parties, the Democrats and Republicans are guaranteed public funds to run for governor, legislature and the constitutional offices (attorney general, secretary of the state, treasurer and comptroller) provided they raise a minimal amount of seed money in increments of $100 or less.

Minor parties like the Greens, by contrast, can only get the full grant if they raise the benchmark amount of cash, and if they won 20 percent of the vote for a seat the prior election, or submit valid signatures equal to 20 percent of the vote. Minor candidates can get lesser grant amounts for lesser shares of the vote – two-thirds of the grant for 15 percent and one-third for 10 percent.

Green Party co-chair Mike DeRosa has run for state senator in Hartford the last several elections and never once broken the six-percent threshold.

De Rosa sat in the front row of the wood-paneled courtroom Tuesday (on those punishing, church-pew-style benches) as his lawyer described the bundles of money his incumbent Democratic opponent raked in. State Sen. John Fonfara earned a $75,000 primary grant and $85,000 election grant this fall even though neither DeRosa nor their Republican challenger qualified for the public grant and ran on just a few thousand bucks combined. That created a lopsided election that resulted in Fonfara spending twice what he has in prior elections against candidates who posed virtually no threat, Lopez said.

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