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Don't Limit The Spending Of Any Of Our Millionaire Candidates For Governor

Rick Green

January 26, 2010

Campaign finance reform is dead. Millionaire Republicans are preparing to carpet-bomb the state with campaign ads.

This is no time for Democrats to proudly go down with the ship.

Yet the reform-minded want gubernatorial candidate and wealthy businessman Ned Lamont to abide by some kind of spending limit?

How noble. How stupid.

I don't think that it's all just about money. But Democrats, in a time of diminished news coverage, a resurgent GOP and an angry electorate, can't afford to let rich Republicans define who they are. That's the lesson from Massachusetts: Winning is about getting your message out.

You think I'm selling out? Let me introduce you to future Gov. Tom Foley, a savvy political unknown who understands the grim period we live in now.

"This is a time of crisis," said Foley, the leveraged-buyout specialist who thinks governing a state might be something like acquiring a distressed manufacturing company at a bargain price.

"It's absolutely ridiculous that the government should pay for political campaigns," Foley said, wisely diagnosing the mood of the people.

In saner times, I might respond sarcastically, 'Yeah, maybe we should just leave it to ExxonMobil.' Except that's the First Amendment reality in the wake of both last week's outrageous Supreme Court ruling and the near-collapse of Connecticut's own campaign finance law. That Connecticut law, struck down by a federal judge last year, is now before the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

I doubt voters have forgotten that our state government is in danger of being unable to pay the bills for existing services, let alone political campaigns.

Former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, who knows as much or more about executive management as Foley, is making a valiant attempt to persuade Lamont to limit his spending during the primary season to the amount candidates can receive under Connecticut's public-financing law about $1.5 million.

Now there's a ticket to defeat. Foley dropped $2 million into his campaign, just in December.

"Fund it yourself," Malloy told me, "but live within the same limitations. Do we have to buy elections in this state? I don't think so."

Well, since the Supreme Court has ruled that it's OK for corporations to buy elections, I'd say the rules have changed, Mr. Mayor. Sure, something better might emerge in the future, but right now Democrats must decide what they want to win or take the Ralph Nader route.

Gary LeBeau, the state senator who also wants to be governor, said I'm advocating handing the election to the wealthy. I'd say I'm being honest.

"A guy like me from East Hartford, are you kidding me? A teacher? My total family income is a little over $100,000."

"I gave Foley an idea. Why don't he and Ned just flip a coin?"

I love his populism. But to embrace spending limits would be nuts and suicidal for Democrats, who in Lamont have a real shot at putting in a leader who might actually do something different for the state.

Look at the two big GOP spenders: Foley and wrestling magnate Linda McMahon. There is no indication that either has the sort of public arena experience needed to succeed as top elected officials, unless you count Foley's eight months trying and failing to rebuild the private sector in Iraq or McMahon's cagey testimony to congressional investigators about steroid abuse among her professional wrestlers.

When there's a war on, I want equal firepower. If Tom Foley is going to be telling us how he's the one to solve the mess in Hartford and he might be I want somebody who can match him dollar for dollar.

Lamont should run like the millionaire Lowell Weicker did 20 years ago: I'm rich, but I'm nobody's man but yours. Can Tom Foley say that?

Tell us where every cent is coming from and where it's going. I can live with a millionaire who does that.

In the meantime, Lamont says he's willing to hold off on dumping his personal wealth into the race, on one condition.

"If everybody does it, that's good by me."

Everybody is not going to do it.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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