Moderate Party of Rhode Island sues state over discriminatory campaign finance law

Below is a post from Ballot Access News and a press release on the subject.

Ballot Access News:

On June 21, the Moderate Party, a ballot-qualified party in Rhode Island, filed a federal lawsuit called Moderate Party of Rhode Island v Lynch.  Here is the complaint.  The number has not been assigned yet.

The case challenges the discriminatory aspect of the law that determines which parties are listed on the state income tax form.  The purpose of listing parties on the state income tax form is to let taxpayers send a small donation to the party of the taxpayer’s choice.  However, only parties that polled 5% of the gubernatorial vote in the last election may be listed.  There are two other methods by which a party may be a ballot-qualified party, either submitting a petition of 5% of the last gubernatorial vote, or having polled 5% for President at the last presidential election.  When the definition of “political party” was expanded in 1994, the legislature didn’t think to expand the definition in the part of the Rhode Island code that affects the state income tax listing.

A press release from the Moderate Party sent to contact.ipr@gmail.com:

Warwick, RI–Today, the Moderate Party of Rhode Island filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Providence challenging the manner in which taxpayer dollars are collected and distributed to political parties as part of public financing of the electoral process. The suit challenges the constitutionality of certain provisions of Title 44, Chapter 30 of the Rhode Island General Laws and names Attorney General Patrick Lynch and General Treasurer Frank Caprio as defendants.

“This is basically a question of fairness and equity. These laws were written by people with political power and were deliberately designed to protect the status quo and to disadvantage those seeking entry into the political process. That’s not what government is supposed to be about and we’re going to fight it,” said Chairman of the Moderate Party, Robert Corrente.

Rhode Islanders, when filing their taxes, are offered the option of “contributing” to a fund that supports the public financing of the electoral process. The amount varies depending on filing status. Married couples filing jointly may contribute up to $10.00 while individuals may contribute $5.00 dollars.

Between $2.00 and $4.00 dollars of that money may be designated to a specific political party by the taxpayer. The remaining money goes into a “Nonpartisan Account” that is then distributed to political parties for party building activities based on a statutory formula.  The total amount that may be collected and distributed, from both the “Nonpartisan Account” and from funds designated to specific political parties named by the taxpayers, may not exceed $200,000.

The formula specifies that 5% of the monies be distributed to the party that holds each of the statewide offices other than governor: Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Treasurer. This totals 20% of the money collected.  The remaining money is then distributed “to each political party in proportion to the combined number of votes its candidates for Governor received in the previous election.”

Based on the last election results, the Democratic Party receives over 59% of the money in that fund.

“Public financing of elections is supposed to be about opening up the process and leveling the playing field. Instead, those in power have written a law creating their own personal cash machine,” said Christine Hunsinger, Executive Director of the Moderate Party. “When you win an election, the prize is that you get to serve the public. That’s it. The prize shouldn’t include rigging the system in a way that makes re-election easier for incumbents. Every incumbent ought to have to re-apply for his or her job, stand on their record and ask the voters to rehire them. ”

Attorney Mark Freel of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, in cooperation with the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the action on behalf of the Moderate Party.

The filing asks the court to provide injunctive relief and to prohibit the distribution of the money based on the existing formula.

“To distribute the money in accordance with the current statutory formula, based on dated results from the gubernatorial election in 2006, is totally unfair to and harmful to the Moderate Party in its effort to compete fairly in this election.  The State of Rhode Island should not subsidize some political parties and exclude others.  The State of Rhode Island recognized the Moderate Party in 2009, after the Moderate Party successfully sued for such recognition, and now the State should treat all parties participating in the 2010 election on equal terms,” said Mark Freel, Attorney for the Moderate Party.

In June of 2009, the Moderate Party won a federal lawsuit and then gathered 34,000 signatures in order to become a recognized political party. Founder of the party and former Chairman Ken Block is the party’s candidate for governor.

To view the lawsuit, click here.

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