A federal judge has decided that wrestling fans in Connecticut can wear World Wrestling Entertainment t-shirts when they go to the polls, ruling that clothing depicting wrestlers' likenesses and the company logo would not be considered an endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon, the WWE's former CEO.
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton Wednesday ordered that a state law that restricts political advertising within 75 feet of a polling place would not apply to voters wearing WWE clothing.
The lawsuit, brought by the WWE, highlights growing tensions between the multi-million-dollar company and Connecticut Democrats.
The WWE and McMahon's husband, company founder Vince McMahon, say the company has been unfairly maligned during the election, and they have launched a public-relations campaign encouraging fans to contact reporters and write letters to the editor of publications attacking the WWE.
In turn, state Democrats accuse the WWE of running a shadow campaign – holding events, running a PR campaign and running stealth ads – and have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for inappropriate interference in the election.
The WWE filed a suit last week against the state, after a spokesman for Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz suggested election workers may ask voters to "cover up a hat, a shirt," bearing a WWE logo when they arrived at the polls.
Just prior to the ruling, Bysiewicz tried stepping back from the comments, issuing a memo that said voters could wear wrestling-themed regalia to the polls.
For Connecticut Democrats the real danger the WWE poses, is not from a wrestling fan wandering into a polling station wearing a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt, but instead from the WWE, a wealthy organization which reaches directly into people's homes on an almost daily basis.
The complaint filed with the FEC by the state party alleges that WWE events to be held before and on Election Day, and corporate commercials that include Linda McMahon's image, break federal electioneering rules.
"Improper coordination between Mrs. McMahon and the WWE is most visible in WWE's new corporate public relations campaign and 'rapid-response' news operation on behalf of McMahon's Senate campaign; WWE's first-ever 'Fan Appreciation Day' in Hartford the Saturday before Election Day; and, the potential interference of an election night WWE event in Bridgeport with voting in one of the state's Democratic strongholds; and paid advertising now being broadcast promoting the WWE and featuring Mrs. McMahon," Democratic State Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo wrote in a complaint to the FEC.
McMahon's campaign was adamant that "there was no coordination between us and WWE," said McMahon spokesman Shawn McCoy.
"I think what we're seeing from the Democrats is opportunistic partisan politics," said McCoy. "Despite (Democratic Senate candidate) Dick Blumenthal's reputation as attorney general for suing every company he could sue, he's never taken any action against the WWE."
McCoy called the Democrats "hypocrites," and added that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared on WWE programs during the presidential campaign in 2008.
The WWE echoed McCoy, saying "we are not involved in Linda McMahon's campaign."
WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman said of the two events the company is holding in Connecticut, the Election Day show held in Bridgeport had been scheduled two years ago.
The "Fan Appreciation Day" show to be held in Hartford, the Saturday before Election Day was part of the company's "Stand up for WWE" campaign, a PR-push started in the wake of anti-WWE rhetoric that began a year ago during the primaries.
"'Stand Up for WWE' is intended to correct the inaccuracies that have been said about company for a full year," he said.
Calls to the Blumenthal campaign were referred to the Connecticut state party.