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Democratic governors challenge Connecticut campaign finance law

Dannel Malloy, Governor of Connecticut speaks to mourners gathererd inside the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. REUTERS/Andrew Gomber
Dannel Malloy, Governor of Connecticut speaks to mourners gathererd inside the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. REUTERS/Andrew Gomber

By Scott Malone

(Reuters) - The U.S. Democratic Governors' Association on Wednesday sued the state of Connecticut, saying its laws on political spending are unconstitutionally broad and limit the ability of political groups to buy independent ads backing candidates.

The lawsuit said the state unfairly treats independent money spent on ads and other political messages by the national group as contributions to particular candidates, and thus subject to campaign finance limits.

"Connecticut's campaign finance laws ... conflict with Supreme Court First Amendment precedent and place a cloud of uncertainty over what DGA may say or do without fear of prosecution," the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut said.

It asked a judge to block the State Elections Enforcement Commission from enforcing its rules. A spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, who will defend the state against the lawsuit, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Connecticut is one of 36 U.S. states with a gubernatorial election in November.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of decisions in recent years has cleared the way for big-money donors to play a larger role in political campaigns. A landmark 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case allowed independent groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on issue advertisements, which are not linked to a particular campaign.

Earlier this month, the high court also knocked down an element of federal campaign finance law by allowing individual donors to give money to as many campaigns, parties and committees as they wish.

Those decisions, and the rapid growth in spending by SuperPACs funded by private interests, have served to diminish the relative influence of parties, said Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

"It may be that the parties want to become more like SuperPACs and that may be the only option the have right now given the Supreme Court decisions lately," McLean said.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, faces a potential election rematch with a strong Republican rival, Tom Foley, a businessman who lost the 2010 election by less than 1 percent of the vote.

A March poll by Quinnipiac University showed the two men tied, each having the support of 42 percent of likely voters.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Dan Grebler and Grant McCool)

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