Conn. parties seek SCOTUS review of tax financing ruling

Connecticut’s Green and Libertarian parties filed a petition today with the Supreme Court to seek review of an appellate court’s decision involving Connecticut’s tax financing law.

Connecticut’s minor parties want the Supreme Court to take up the case to determine whether state campaign finance law discriminates against minor party candidates by imposing stringent qualifying requirements coupled with a trigger provision that punishes third party candidates who qualify by then giving additional government subsidies to their major party opponents.

The Supreme Court has already granted review in a similar case, Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett. The Green Party case raises slightly different issues, as the Connecticut legislature decided to rewrite its law this summer after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the trigger provision was unconstitutional. The Second Circuit, though, upheld separate restrictive standards for minor party candidates.

From the petition:

In Connecticut, candidates seeking public funding must first raise thousands of dollars in small contributions (the amount varies by office). However, unlike the Maine and Arizona systems that rely solely on qualifying contributions to measure a candidate’s level of public support, under [Connecticut’s Citizens’ Elections Program (“CEP”)] a minor party candidate must have also received at least 10% of the vote in the prior election or satisfy an onerous petitioning requirement to qualify even for partial funding. Quite apart from the fact that the prior vote requirement is twice the threshold upheld in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), all the evidence shows that the contribution requirement, by itself, would filter out weak candidates and that the additional criteria are unfairly burdensome. No other state in the nation imposes such stringent qualifying criteria…

The district court struck down the CEP in its entirety. A divided court of appeals agreed that the statute’s so called trigger provisions—one based on independent expenditures and one based on “excess” expenditures by nonparticipating candidates—were unconstitutional, but rejected the claim that the statute’s remaining provisions discriminated against minor party candidates.

The CEP purports to be modeled on the Maine and Arizona systems, but in fact is a hybrid that radically departs from those systems and from the system upheld in Buckley. The Second Circuit has given its approval to a public financing system that needlessly raises the qualifying bar for minor parties, while at the same time, confers substantial election related advantages on the major parties. The court has given the green light to legislatures across the country to abandon the non-discriminatory approach to public financing that every state, except Connecticut, has opted to follow. Giving the legislature keys to the treasury to finance their own campaigns is risky business fraught with the danger that they will enact legislation that will stifle competition. [emphasis added]

The case is Green Party of Conn. v. Lange (it has been renamed to reflect the replacement of Jeffrey Garfield with Alfred Lenge as the top official at Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission). The American Civil Liberties Union and Mark Lopez of Lewis, Clifton & Nikolaidis represent the plaintiffs.