The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) recently proposed legislation to make some technical changes to state campaign finance laws. When Michael Brandi, the SEEC Executive Director, appeared at a public hearing before the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) committee to discuss the proposed legislation, he informed lawmakers that, unbeknownst to him, additional language had been added to the SEEC proposal, which changed the definition of a “party committee” under state law.
Brandi explained that the definitional change could allow political parties to circumvent the state’s landmark campaign finance law. He also noted that the change appeared related to pending litigation between the SEEC and the State Democratic Party concerning Governor Malloy’s 2014 reelection campaign.
When Brandi asked GAE committee members, including the House and Senate co-chairs, how and why the additional language was in the bill his agency had proposed, the answer was, “We don’t know.”
Of course, someone knows. It’s just that no one wants to say on the record.
How does such “orphan language” find its way into proposed legislation? As I have discussed elsewhere, the Legislative Commissioners’ Office supports the General Assembly by, among other things, drafting legislation. LCO staff members, however, only draft legislation at the request of a member of the General Assembly. So, someone must have told a LCO staff member responsible for turning the original SEEC proposal into draft legislation to add additional language to the proposal concerning party committees.
Why can’t the LCO divulge the identity of the public official who requested the addition on the language in question? LCO staff members are attorneys and legislators are considered their clients. The General Assembly has long taken the position that the attorney-client privilege precludes LCO staff members from discussing their interactions with legislators.
I do not know whether this legal position has ever been tested in court, and it is not the purpose of this post to challenge that position. Whether the attorney-client privilege applies or not, however, the rules of the House and Senate should not allow any language to appear in the text of a proposed bill or amendment without one or more legislators taking responsibility for the language.