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Good news for third party/independent candidates: Court decision on public campaign funding

KW: This is very good news for third party and independent candidates. Having government/public money set aside to fund candidates can be a healthy idea for getting all voices heard during election season. The idea is that people willing to run for office do not have to be rich to get their ideas out and have a campaign. Though, too many times, when public campaign funding is proposed, it includes hidden pitfalls for non-major party candidates. This new ruling is actually a great step in demanding an even playing field.

Commentary below by Ballot Access expert Richard Winger:

from Ballot Access News
Connecticut Public Funding Law Held Unconstitutional Because it Discriminates Severely Against Minor Parties & Independent Candidates
/ August 27th, 2009

On August 27, U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill, a Clinton appointee, held that Connecticut’s public funding law for candidates is so discriminatory in favor of the two major parties, and against all other parties and candidates, that it is unconstitutional in its entirety. The opinion is 138 pages long. A link to the decision is found in this news story from Connecticut News Junkie. Thanks to Ken Krayeske for this news. The case is Green Party of Ct. v Garfield, 3:06cv1030. The Libertarian Party is a co-plaintiff.

Connecticut’s public funding law was passed in 2006 and used for the first time in 2008. Members of parties that polled 20% of the vote in the last election are entitled to public funding if they receive a certain number of qualifying contributions. Others must also obtain the qualifying contributions, but they need to submit a very large number of signatures, in addition.

The decision summarizes the problems with the law on page 71: “The CEP (Citizens Election Program) enhances the relative strength of major party candidates in ways that represent a severe burden on the political opportunity of minor party candidates for the following reasons: (1) it provides participating major party candidates public funding at windfall levels, well beyond what most major party candidates would typically be able to raise on their own from private fundraising sources; (2) it permits major party candidates who are as equally ‘hopeless’ as minor party candidates in many districts to become eligible for full funding without first requiring such hopeless major party candidates to make the same threshold showing of public support required of minor party candidates through the additional qualifying criteria; (3) the additional qualifying criteria for minor party candidates are nearly impossible to achieve, thus ensuring that minor party candidates will only very rarely qualify for the ‘enhancing’ benefits made available by CEP participation; and (4) in the event a minor party candidate does qualify for partial CEP funding, it handicaps that participating minor party candidate by automatically granting full funding to his or her participating major party opponent, and by prohibiting the partially-funded minor party candidate from raising private contributions, up to the full grant amount, in increments greater than $100.”

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