A federal judge Wednesday ruled against Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim in the mayor’s effort to overturn a state law that bars anyone guilty of a public corruption felony from getting public campaign financing.
Ganim, who served nearly seven years in prison on federal corruption charges, filed a lawsuit challenging an April decision by the state Elections Enforcement Commission to deny his request for public funding for his Democratic candidacy for governor. Ganim claimed the ban violated his free speech right by putting him at a disadvantage to other candidates who would have a financing advantage of millions of dollars.
After the ruling on Wednesday, Ganim said he would continue with an exploratory committee and make a decision on running for governor around January. He said he has not decided whether to appeal Wednesday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shea.
Ganim was a five-term Bridgeport mayor when he was convicted in 2003 of participation in a bribery and kickback scheme. Connecticut’s public campaign financing system was passed in response to a series of political scandals that included Ganim’s and that of ex-Gov. John G. Rowland, who also served time in federal prison.
In 2010, Ganim was released from prison. The General Assembly passed an amendment to the state’s citizens election program in 2013 prohibiting anyone convicted of a public corruption felony from gaining access to state public campaign financing. The law was passed following yet another scandal involving former Bridgeport Sen. Ernie Newtown, who was found guilty of misusing campaign money.
Shea said 2013 amendment “doesn’t burden or penalize” Ganim’s first amendment rights because he still has the right to speak freely and campaign as would candidates who choose not to participate in CEP.
Shea, reading decision from bench, said the amendment barring public corruption convicts from public financing is less restrictive than the clearly legal means state’s have to bar convicts from running altogether, such as denying the right to vote, a prerequisite in Connecticut for running for governor. If a state can bar a felon from running for office indirectly, there is no reason to believe the state cannot ban a candidate from public financing, he said.
The 2013 amendment seems less restrictive than an entire ban on running for office, said Shea.
Ganim’s voting rights were restored in 2015. He ran for mayor of Bridgeport and was elected to another four-year term as head of Connecticut’s largest city. He is now one of more than a dozen Democrats running for governor or other statewide offices.
Ganim’s lawsuit said that Connecticut’s law banning “a very narrow class of felons” from getting public financing “is absolute and lifelong.”
The lawsuit claimed that portions of the state law banning Ganim from access to public financing “are irrational, serve no legitimate public interest, and have no rational basis.” According to the suit, murderers, lobbyists convicted of bribing public officials, and public officials convicted of felonies unrelated to their offices wouldn’t be barred from public financing under the current law.