Opinion: Dark money and campaign financing

June 16, 2014

By State Sen. Len Fasano | Town Times

When it comes to campaign financing, I believe in playing fair and keeping it clean.

Over the past decade, Connecticut has gone from championing fair campaign financing to touting a weak system strewn with loopholes. Governor Malloy and the majority party are consistently trying to change the rules to benefit their own campaigns, and their behavior is damaging all that Connecticut has accomplished.
How did we get to this point?

Back in 2005, the Connecticut Citizens’ Election Program reformed campaign financing, banning “dark” money — contributions from special interest groups including lobbyists and state contractors. The reforms also established public financed elections so qualifying candidates could rely on a set amount of “clean” state money to fund their campaign, freeing them from the pay-to-play influence of big outside donors. The program was bipartisan, fair and honest.

Fast-forward to 2010. The year the Democrats had a strong gubernatorial candidate in Malloy, they began challenging the CEP. During a special legislative session in July and in response to a court ruling, Democrats overrode Governor Rell’s veto and passed a bill that doubled the state funding for gubernatorial candidates to $6 million. This increase just so happened to occur at a time when candidate Malloy was fishing for more money to compete with his opponent, Tom Foley. The conveniently timed alteration set a bad precedent – it allowed the majority party to change the rules when it benefitted them.

Once Malloy became governor, he again threatened Connecticut’s system. In 2012, he tried unsuccessfully to change the law to allow publicly financed candidates to raise unlimited funds from special interest groups if they faced a high-spending opponent. The legislature saw through this troubling proposal that would completely undermine the CEP. But Malloy did not stop there.

In 2013, the governor pushed through campaign finance reforms that successfully opened the doors to “dark” money. By increasing individual contribution limits and allowing certain organizations to make unlimited expenditures on behalf of candidates, Malloy’s modifications allowed special interest money into campaigns. His changes also allowed organizations to support candidates through coordinated negative campaigning targeting an opponent. The result: special interests at play, more money in politics and more mudslinging.

Today, Democrats are further threatening our campaign financing protections. The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) filed a lawsuit this year seeking federal approval to override Connecticut’s coordination laws, which are designed to prevent coordinated activities between a “clean” CEP candidate and independent expenditures utilizing “dark” money. While the DGA’s request for a preliminary injunction stopping the state from enforcing our CEP laws was denied by the courts, the lawsuit remains on the table. Despite this direct threat to the CEP, Governor Malloy is not only sitting back and watching it happen, but also will gain a great deal for his own campaign if their lawsuit is successful.

It is frustrating to see what has happened to our fractured CEP. If we want to save our system from future threats, the majority must stop chipping away at Connecticut’s protections to benefit their own campaigns. We have to keep financing clean and honest – that is the only way to play fair.

State Sen. Len Fasano (www.senatorfasano.com) represents the 34th District towns of Durham, East Haven, North Haven, Wallingford. He is also available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/senatorfasano.