Bridgeport Mayor's Lawsuit Tests Limits Of Public Campaign Financing

Aug 4, 2017

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim wants to get public money for his campaign for governor, but the state told him no. That’s because of his past public corruption convictions.

Ganim is now taking the state to court, after filing a federal lawsuit against the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Ganim has argued that ruling violates his constitutional rights to free speech and equal political opportunity.

“He’s right that the courts have found spending money on political campaigns is a form of free speech -- and there’s a First Amendment right to do that. But the First Amendment right comes from not limiting your speech,” said Joshua A. Douglas, a professor who teaches election and constitutional law at the University of Kentucky College of Law. “Here, he’s seeking to take the government’s money and use it for additional speech and the government has put some conditions on that money.”

Douglas said that includes limits on contributions and spending caps.

“The courts have said there’s no fundamental right to be a candidate,” Douglas said. “And so it’s not like his rights are being violated because they’re making it harder for him to be a candidate.”

Interestingly, Douglas was contacted by the Ganim campaign, but gave them no formal advice or legal representation. He thinks Ganim has an uphill legal battle and said going forward, the question for the courts will be whether Connecticut has a “valid interest” in barring candidates with prior public corruption charges from public campaign money.