Conn. Lobbyists Fight Campaign Gift Ban

Lobbyists at the state Capitol in Hartford are challenging Connecticut’s new campaign finance reform law in federal court, saying rules banning them from making campaign contributions are unconstitutional.

Connecticut’s law, considered one of the most strict in the country, bans contributions from lobbyists and their immediate families and prohibits them from soliciting contributions from their clients and others.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is representing the state in the matter, said the law is constitutional and his office will defend it.

“The legislature rightfully believed that eliminating lobbyist contributions was critical to eliminating abuses in the present system — and these public policy goals are entitled to respect,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said the contribution ban is justified considering Connecticut’s recent experience with public corruption. Former Gov. John G. Rowland served 10 months in a federal prison camp after pleading guilty in December 2004 to one count of conspiracy to steal honest services, a combination of mail and tax fraud.

“We argue that the public interest here is thoughtful and compelling especially in light of the corruption scandal that helped prompt the law,” Blumenthal said.

The lawsuit was filed by The Association of Connecticut Lobbyists. A message was left seeking comment with the group’s attorney, R. Bartley Halloran.

In an earlier interview, Halloran said a part of the new law that bans lobbyists from soliciting contributions for a candidate is written so broadly that lobbyists might be prevented from telling their clients any inside information about a legislator’s voting record.

“For a lobbyist to do that, they’re taking a chance of somebody accusing them of soliciting and that has a lot of penalties associated with it,” Halloran said. “It has to be better defined.”

Connecticut’s law, which takes effect in late December, sets up a voluntary public financing system. It bans contributions from state contractors, eliminates advertising booklets used to raise money and places new restrictions on political action committees.