Sen. McLachlan: Will 2015 be the year elections law loopholes get closed? (Danbury News-Times)

December 12, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Danbury News-Times

Swiss cheese. That’s what Connecticut’s current campaign finance law resembles.

The law, which was changed in 2013 in spite of Republican opposition, is now riddled with loopholes.

As we saw this fall, those loopholes are easily exploited as money now flows freely into state political campaigns. Connecticut may be a northeastern state, but we’ve essentially become the Wild, Wild West.

Consider some of our state law’s Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not features:

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

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

State political party 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 “gift exception” in the law enables public officials to cover expenses they incur. Some of those expenses are not clearly identified, and they may be reimbursed and paid for by the public official’s party committee.

Last year around this time, I warned that these loopholes would make the political process more impure, lessen transparency in the system, and render elections watchdogs toothless.

Apparently, my crystal ball was accurate.

Today, those predictions have come true. Money has trumped sunlight. Connecticut — a state which was once a model for clean elections — has ventured down the wrong path.

The good news? Top state Democrats are now seeing the post-election light and are joining Republicans in calling for fixes to the law.

It may be too late to right the campaign finance wrongs we saw occur in this year’s election, but 2015 presents us with an opportunity.

A new session of the Connecticut General Assembly begins Jan. 7, and addressing this “swiss cheese” law should be among our top priorities.

State Sen. Michael McLachlan is the ranking member on the Government, Administration and Elections Committee. He represents the 24th District, which is Bethel, Danbury, New Fairfield and Sherman. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 860-240-0068.