The Corner

U.S.

Joe Markley’s Fight for Political Free Speech in Connecticut

Connecticut Governer Dannel Malloy (Jason Reed/Reuters)

There is an important and ongoing political free-speech fight occurring in Connecticut that deserves greater attention from conservatives; if only because it shows the partisan lengths liberal Democrats go to in order to suppress the First Amendment.

In fact, nearly two years ago, state senator Joe Markley, considered the legislature’s primo stalwart conservative, wrote about this matter for NR, but the in-a-nutshell is this: In October 2014, roughly three weeks prior to elections, the State Election Enforcement Commission, or SEEC, issued an Advisory Opinion holding that candidates who take public funds (yep, Nutmeg State elections allow for taxpayer funding of legislative and non-federal statewide campaigns) are forbidden, in campaign literature, to attack candidates other than the one they are challenging. Violate and be called for hearings, threatened with fines, and indeed, fined.

This prohibition was very important to Democrats, who did not (and do not) want their party’s under-ticket candidates tied to Connecticut’s extremely unpopular governor, Dannel Malloy (here is a terrific 2015 NR article by Markley on him). Still, the tagging proved irresistible to Republicans, as well it should have: Many did such, believing that the SEEC opinion was more an opinion than an order.

That’s not how the hacks took it. Complaints were filed, hearings held, findings found, fines proposed. Rather than face fines and to be rid of the matter, GOP candidates charged with attacking “other” candidates (in the large, Malloy) entered into an agreement with the SEEC to admit they shouldn’t have done so, and won’t again.

Except for two people: Markley and another principled conservative, state representative Rob Sampson (R., Southington), who challenged that the SEEC opinion and rulings — which would have effectively prohibited them from criticizing the policies of a sitting governor during statewide election — are a violation of political free speech.

Markley (hit with sanctions and a $2,000 fine, while Sampson was hit for $5,000) says he was specifically cited for peripheral statements he made about Malloy in campaign literature:

Out of thousands of words in my campaign pieces, the three statements they cited me for were “that I had fought against ‘Governor Malloy’s reckless spending,’ ‘the Malloy Tax Hike,’ and ‘Governor Malloy’s agenda.’” I didn’t urge the defeat of Malloy, or even mention his opponent.

Both are fighting the SEEC verdict (Sampson can be seen in this video of an August, 2017, SEEC enforcement hearing — the arrogance of the Commission hack running the meeting is a perfect example of bureaucratic smuggery and hubris). There is an “administrative appeal” looming.

The appeal and the process, which has the potential to go far beyond some windowless room in a Hartford bureaucracy, deserve fuller attention from conservatives and all those concerned about the state of free speech in America.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since its original publication.

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