Republicans: More campaign finance limits needed [CT Post]

March 31, 2015

Article as it appeared in the CT Post

HARTFORD — Republicans warned Thursday that a flood of outside-interest money could soon taint the state’s landmark 2005 election reforms.

Ten years after the Rowland scandals embarrassed the state and sent lawmakers soul searching, Democrats are blocking efforts to reinforce those reforms, according to House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano. During a news conference, the two lawmakers charged that GOP proposals for tighter campaign financing were left out of the legislation that will be the subject of a public hearing Friday before the policy-writing Government Administration and Elections Committee.

“On the eve of this hearing, we are here to reiterate what we think is very important in the deal and the promise we made to the state of Connecticut 10 years ago when we told them if you subsidize and pay for these elections, we promise you sunshine and clean elections,” Klarides, R-Derby, said. “This bill that we see coming up tomorrow does none of that.”

A nonpartisan analysis of the bill said it would increase disclosure requirements on independent campaign spending and establish clearer distinctions between coordinated campaigns and independent spending, while conforming state law to federal court rulings.

The GOP lawmakers proposed reforms that would prevent the state party accounts from being used to circumvent the state’s strict campaign finance law, including limiting what state parties can give candidates and cutting the maximum individual contribution to a state party in half — from the current $10,000 to $5,000.

Getting around the law

The 2005 law expressly prohibits state contractors from participating in General Assembly and top-of-the-ticket races, including governor.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission is currently conducting an investigation into the use of the Democratic State Central Committee’s federal account, which includes hundreds of thousands of dollars from state contractors, for state races including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s successful re-election campaign.

The contractors included the owners of the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry and the main contractor for the planned massive redevelopment of the Stamford Railroad Station area.

In the waning weeks of last year’s gubernatorial race, Democrats first asked the Federal Election Commission for a ruling on the use of the money, then dropped the request around the time that Malloy campaign literature was mailed out.

The Republicans claim while it was legal for Malloy to raise money, including state contractor contributions for the Democrats’ federal political action committee, it was illegal for the funds to be used for anything other than so-called Get Out The Vote efforts. One Malloy mailer in particular had only a small portion with information on where voters could cast ballots.

“Most of it was about Gov. Malloy, so it seemed to be a political piece to help Gov. Malloy’s campaign, not really Get Out The Vote,” Fasano said.

Earlier this month, the State Elections Enforcement Commission voted to issue investigative subpoenas in connection with the GOP’s October complaint, around the time that Malloy said he was going to do whatever was legal to raise and spend money for his re-election.

Klarides called the apparent contractor loophole the most-glaring issue.

“I think that this whole notion of using federal funds that have been raised all over the country to finance state campaigns is so on point as to what we believe in this state,” she said of the 2005 restrictions. “Then, when it doesn’t work to your advantage, maybe you’ll change it?”

Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, ranking member of the legislative committee, said the pending bill would “open up bus-sized loopholes” while allowing candidates more time to coordinate efforts leading up to campaigns.

He called the fallout from the federal case known as Citizens United, which allows unlimited corporate and union contributions, irrelevant to the bill.

Adam Joseph, spokesman for majority Senate Democrats, agreed that the issue of Citizens United “is irrelevant” to state law.

“In 2012, legislative Republicans were the number one recipients of super PAC and dark money,” Joseph said. “The proposed bill strengthens Connecticut’s campaign finance law by restricting coordination with independent expenditures, improves transparency by expanding disclosure requirements and works to preserve a law that has been under assault since the Citizens United decision.”

More Information

Measures that GOP lawmakers said are needed to prevent special-interest money from influencing state elections.

• A limit on expenditures for state parties to give individual candidates.
• A 50-percent reduction in the limits individuals could contribute to state parties, to $5,000.
• A stronger prohibition against the use of state contractor money in General Assembly and top-of-the-ticket races.
• Cease public-financing grants to unopposed candidates.
• A 25-percent reduction in individual grants.