A state elections panel issued a draft ruling Wednesday that said the felony corruption convictions that sent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim to federal prison for seven years bar him from getting any state public campaign financing to run for governor.
Ganim is considering a 2018 gubernatorial bid and applied to be allowed to get up to $6 million in public campaign funding from Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program.
He argued that the 2012 law banning public officials convicted of corruption felonies from getting public campaign money is unfair to ex-convicts, “serves no legitimate, rational public policy interest,” is illogical and shouldn’t apply retroactively to his case.
The state Elections Enforcement Commission rejected all those arguments in a 12-page decision. Ganim, 57, said Wednesday he is considering a court appeal of the panel’s ruling and appears to be leaning heavily in that direction.
He said there is a whole series of constitutional issues involved in the 2012 law “that should be decided in court… It’s got to be challenged.”
Ganim said being denied access to public campaign funds when all other candidates in a race had that money would force that person to run “with his financial hands tied behind his back.”
“The intent [of Connecticut’s campaign financing law] is to give everybody an opportunity… to participate,” Ganim said. “All I want is an opportunity to participate.” He said the commission’s ruling effectively indicates the law “is just not for certain people, and Joe Ganim happens to be one of them.”
But Ganim also said he is exploring all his options for 2018, including running for governor without any public financing.
Bridgeport’s mayor for five terms, Ganim was convicted in 2003 on 16 federal counts of racketeering, extortion, bribery, mail fraud and tax evasion. He was charged with awarding city contracts in return for illegal kickbacks from contractors.
Ganim insisted he was innocent throughout his years in prison. After his release, he staged a remarkable political comeback in 2015 to win a new four-year term as Bridgeport’s mayor. Ganim did finally acknowledge his wrongdoing during his campaign.
Now part way through his four-year term as mayor, Ganim is one of several Democrats and Republicans looking at running for governor in the wake of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s decision not to seek reelection.
The ruling by the elections panel noted than Connecticut adopted a public campaign financing system after a series of sensational public scandals that included convictions of ex-Gov. John G. Rowland, former state Treasurer Paul Silvester, Ganim, and a former state senator from Bridgeport, Ernie Newton.
“These scandals received widespread press coverage, leading the media to dub the state ‘Corrupticut,’ ” the election’s ruling stated. “Connecticut responded to these repeated parades of corruption with comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation.”
Newton, who had been convicted of campaign corruption in 2005, emerged from prison and staged his own political comeback. In 2012, Newtown applied for and received $80,805 to run once again for the state Senate. He was subsequently convicted of new campaign-related corrupt practices and spent another six months in prison.
Following that 2012 election, the General Assembly passed the law banning former public officials from getting public financing if they had been convicted of “a felony related to the individual’s public office.” The law became effective in June 2013.
Ganim claimed the law should only apply to offenses committed after the law’s effective date, which would exclude his 2003 convictions, and should not be applied retroactively.
The commission ruled that “the statute is not retroactive.” In its decision, the panel pointed out that the campaign law doesn’t apply to what happened to Ganim in 2003. “The commission concludes that it is neither the intent nor the aim of the law in question to additionally punish felons,” the decision stated in part. The panel also noted that the campaign finance system is voluntary, and that it’s ruling wouldn’t prevent Ganim from running without public funding.
“The plethora of statutes and constitutional provisions that are in place across the country that restrict felons from holding office make it clear that the public, through their legislatures, feel that political corruption impacts an individual’s fitness to serve in office,” the commission ruled.
Connecticut has no constitutional barrier against felons running for public office.