Connecticut’s Campaign Finance Reform Saga Is Not Over Yet

August 9, 2010

So far, there have been no surprises in the General Assembly’s most recent attempt to address legal concerns about Connecticut’s public campaign financing law. But that could change. The ball is now in the House of Representatives’ court, and members are expected to return to the State Capitol later this week in response to Governor M. Jodi Rell’s veto of the legislation passed just a handful of days ago.

In my opinion, the best thing that could happen now is for Governor Rell’s veto to stand, forcing legislators to consider other – hopefully better – solutions to the issues raised by the federal courts. But, unfortunately, the State Senate has already overridden the veto on a party line vote. It remains to be seen if the House will do the same. Interestingly, House leadership does not intend to hold an override session until later this week. By then, the August 10th primary will be history and everyone will know exactly whose names will be on the ballot this November. No one can predict what, if any, affect the primary results will have on the House’s action.

Governor Rell was very clear in explaining her reasons for vetoing the campaign finance reform law “fix” championed by the General Assembly’s Democratic majority. Among other things, she objected to the provision that automatically doubles the base grant to be given participating gubernatorial candidates who qualify for public financing. What that means is that each gubernatorial candidate would get $6 million in public financing for their campaigns, instead of $3 million. I agree completely with what Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said when the Senate overrode the Governor’s veto last week: “In the face of a nearly $4 billion budget deficit, that $6 million should be spent to offset that deficit. The fact that this money may be set aside, means that we have to spend it, speaks to exactly what is wrong with our government here in Connecticut.”

In addition to doubling public financing for gubernatorial candidates – and ignoring other candidates for statewide office – Governor Rell objected to the General Assembly’s response to the federal court ruling regarding lobbyist and state contractor campaign contributions and solicitations. In her veto message, the Governor stated that permitting lobbyist contributions to count toward candidates’ efforts to qualify for public financing undermines the integrity of the program. Furthermore, she finds it inappropriate that restrictions on lobbyist and contractor solicitations included in the legislation intended to “fix” the campaign finance reform law do not become effective until January 1, 2011 – even though other provisions of the vetoed legislation are set to take effect immediately.

In addition to voting against the campaign finance reform “fix” vetoed by the Governor, Republican Senators offered several amendments to counter various provisions of the legislation championed by the General Assembly’s majority leadership – and all of which were defeated, including the amendment I offered that would have provided an additional $6 million to the state’s nutrition program instead of to gubernatorial candidates.

Much has been said about the fact that the money given to candidates participating in the Citizens’ Election Program comes from escheats, abandoned property that is controlled by the state. It is expected that we will spend $38 to $48 million of that public money to help finance the campaigns of those running for political office this year. It absolutely amazes me that we, as a state, do not insist on finding a better use for this money than helping politicians get themselves elected.

Governor Rell, a supporter of campaign finance reform, has proposed alternate legislation she wants the General Assembly to consider in the event that her veto is allowed to stand. I would prefer to have the opportunity to vote in favor of repealing the provisions of the law that provides public financing to political candidates. I did not serve in the General Assembly when the public financing law was passed in 2005, and would have voted against it if I had been a member of the legislature at that time. Meanwhile, I am now a reluctant participant in the campaign public financing program because that is the system we have in place.