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A Giant Step Backward On Elections Watchdog

Elections Enforcement Commission: Dismemberment is no way to treat a nonpartisan agency

The Hartford Courant

April 27, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used the Citizens' Election Program to great advantage in his winning race for governor last year.

Strange, then, that he would preside over the destruction of the landmark program and its host agency, the venerable state Elections Enforcement Commission.

That's what will happen if the state budget as currently written becomes law.

Mr. Malloy had been a strong supporter of Connecticut's voluntary program to publicly finance state elections since it was created by statute in 2005.

But a handful of lawmakers' terrible decision to eviscerate the enforcement commission, scatter its parts and place administration of the public financing of elections in a partisan elective office the secretary of the state will undermine public trust in the Citizens' Election Program.

Gutting this commission will harm what's left of it in everything the agency is supposed to do.

Done out of spite?

This hatchet job, undertaken by small-minded legislators said to be irked at the commission's sometimes-nitpicking auditing of campaign filings, must be reversed.

Mr. Malloy is trying to save money by reorganizing and consolidating state agencies. So-called accountability agencies that are now independent clean-government agencies such as the Office of State Ethics and Elections Enforcement would be placed under an umbrella agency called the Office of Government Accountability. The sharing of back-office functions would result in some savings.

Most of these watchdog agencies would still be independent to a large extent under the reorganization. But under changes authored by lawmakers, not the state Elections Enforcement Commission.

It would be split apart and lose staff. Its essential functions running the clean-elections program, enforcing state election laws without regard to party affiliation, making sure candidates' and officeholders' disclosure statements are up to snuff would be parceled out to three different places.

Some functions would remain in the Office of Government Accountability. The Citizens' Election Program would go to the secretary of the state's office. Many of the commission's auditors would find a new home in the Auditors of Public Accounts office.

This unnecessary splintering of an agency with a fine record of standing tall for the public interest sacrifices effectiveness and accountability for what? Why spread out to three offices what was done well in one?

Clean-Elections Program At Risk

The agency's dismemberment will especially weaken trust in the Citizens' Election Program. Henceforth it will be run by a partisan (no matter who holds the office) official who may run for re-election under a program that she oversees. Conflict of interest, anyone?

Under this hastily-patched-together reorganization, a partisan official controls who gets grants of public campaign financing money and who does not.

So much for the credibility of Connecticut's far-reaching and momentous election financing reform, which up to now has been an antidote to special interest influence on elections and government.

Mr. Malloy must fight this change in the budget. It can't be allowed to stand. Shame on the lawmakers who want to sabotage the Elections Enforcement Commission and a great election reform out of petty spite.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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