(Danbury News Times op-ed) Sen. McLachlan: New state campaign law filled with loopholes

December 11, 2013

State Sen. Michael McLachlan: New state campaign law filled with loopholes

“One of the crassest, most flagrant violations of fundamental Federal Election Commission regulations.”

U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton made that statement Aug. 27 in reference to an individual who conspired to hide the source of a Connecticut congressional campaign’s illegal contributions. She then handed down a 38-month prison sentence.

While this case involved federal campaign law violations, it has shined a bright light on money and Connecticut politics. Many residents may be surprised to learn that here in Connecticut, our law was recently overhauled to open up the spigot for more money to flow into state campaigns.

Consider some of the new state law’s features:

Some organizations that wish to spend money in political campaigns do not have to register with the state of Connecticut.

Candidates can now pay their campaign treasurers from surplus funds. Got a surplus? You can now give your treasurer a bonus.

Definitions of terms like “party-building activity” and “permissible expenditures” for campaigns are expanded.

State central committees may make unlimited organizational expenditures to campaigns. Unlimited? Yes, unlimited.

People are allowed to create something called an “independent expenditure organization,” spend a whole bunch of money and never report where that money came from. Why? Because the new law contains exemptions which let campaigns get around disclosure.

A new gift exception allows public officials to cover expenses incurred. Some of those expenses are not clearly identified, and they may be reimbursed and paid for by the public official’s party committee.

To recap: Despite “one of the crassest, most flagrant violations” of elections laws our state has ever witnessed, Connecticut’s campaign finance law has been turned into a series of giant loopholes. Through all that swiss cheese, three things will happen:

Money will flow into state campaigns like never before.

Oversight will be rendered toothless.

The political process will become even more impure.

Those who want more transparency in state campaigns will be sadly disappointed. Money has trumped sunlight, and Connecticut has started down the wrong path.

In Hartford, I will be working to close our new law’s gaping loopholes and to get answers to the multitude of questions it has raised.

State Sen. Michael McLachlan is the ranking member on the Government, Administration and Elections Committee. He represents Bethel, Danbury, New Fairfield and Sherman. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 860 240-0068.