(Sept. 18, 2009) The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut has held that Connecticut's public campaign financing program, the Citizens' Election Program (CEP), violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against minor parties.
Connecticut passed the Campaign Finance Reform Act (CFRA) in 2005, after numerous state corruption scandals. The law was intended to combat corruption by reducing the influence of money in political campaigns. An important element of CFRA was the CEP, a voluntary public financing program, which provided substantial primary and general election campaign grants to candidates for state elected offices.
To obtain the public funding, the CEP required a candidate's party to poll a substantial percentage of votes or of registered voters during the prior gubernatorial election and meet certain fundraising levels of individual contributions. Candidates from “minor parties” that could not meet the required number of voters could still participate in CEP, but only at a fractional funding level and if they met certain additional requirements of votes cast in local elections or a certain number of voter signatures.
Two minor parties in Connecticut, the Green and Libertarian parties, challenged the financing scheme as a violation of the U.S. First Amendment right to “political opportunity” or access to the political process guaranteed by the right to speech and association.
The district court agreed with the plaintiffs, holding that the CEP enhanced the electoral advantage of major parties at the expense of the political opportunity of minor parties. The court found that CEP qualifications could only be obtained by established parties, while the criteria for minor party candidates to obtain funding were too onerous. The court enjoined state officials from operating and enforcing the CEP. (Green Party v. Garfield, No. 3:06cv1030 (D. Conn. Aug. 27, 2009), available at http://www.courant.com/media/acrobat/2009-08/48929519.pdf.)