Biden and Trump banned from political ads? Connecticut Supreme Court considers it

State regulators argued the rules prevent campaigns from "electioneering" for each other.

News 12 Staff

Sep 13, 2023, 9:31 PM

Updated 250 days ago


President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump could be off limits in political ads next year, under a case that went before the Connecticut Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Justices are deciding whether candidates who accept public campaign financing are allowed to mention other people on the ballot in ads – like a governor or presidential candidate. The case dates back to 2014, when several Republicans sent out mailers attacking then-Gov. Dannel Malloy. The State Elections Enforcement Commission ruled that the ads illegally helped Malloy's opponent, Tom Foley.
State regulators argued the rules prevent campaigns from "electioneering" for each other.
"You can say all of these things, right up to the words 'Gov. Malloy,'" Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne said. "By participating in the [Citizens Election Program], you've agreed – you have relinquished core First Amendment rights."
SEEC fined Rob Sampson and Joe Markley, a current and former state senator, a total of $7,000. Instead of paying, both candidates took the commission to court.
On Wednesday, their attorney called the restrictions "silly" and said they could have a chilling effect on campaign speech.
"Most campaigns utilize negative advertising, right?" said Charles Miller, an attorney with the Institute of Free Speech. "You want to tie your opponent, you know, to that 'orange man' that's running."
The restrictions do not apply to candidates who fund their own campaigns, like Gov. Ned Lamont or his two-time opponent, Republican Bob Stefanowski. During both of his races, Lamont frequently mentioned Trump.
"Donald Trump has embraced and endorsed Bob Stefanowski, so they are joined at the hip," Lamont said in 2018.
Several Supreme Court justices struggled to understand state regulators' logic.
"What's the distinction?" asked Justice Joan Alexander. "It's still Gov. Malloy's policies."
Justice Andrew McDonald, a former Malloy aide who was appointed by the ex-governor, said candidates should be able to compare themselves to a sitting governor or president.
"'I'm just not that bad person; I'm much better than that bad person,'" he said. "Why isn't that just promoting your own candidacy?"
But other justices argued that both candidates knew the rules when they accepted public campaign dollars.
"You agreed to this, right?" asked Justice Raheem Mullins. "Aren't there requirements for the program and you're not forced to be in the program?"
The Connecticut Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the next few months.

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