The Democrat-dominated General Assembly has a funny way of "fine-tuning" Connecticut's reform-minded campaign finance laws.
Those laws, on the books since 2005 as a righteous reaction to the Rowland scandals, focused on getting tainted money out of politics. They banned campaign contributions from state contractors and the infamous ad book as a fund-raising tool. They restricted contributions from lobbyists, and they set up a landmark system of voluntary public financing of elections for the legislature and statewide offices.
The clean-elections statutes have been a source of pride for Connecticut.
But a bill drafted largely in secret and passed by the state House Saturday and Senate Tuesday with all Republicans present voting in opposition — thank you, Republicans — punctured the reforms and opened the spillway for more private dollars in campaigns.
The legislation doubles the amount a donor can give to party committees. It removes all limits on what state parties can spend on legislative races, whether to support or oppose candidates.
It would bring back the ad booklets handed out at political events, a way of pouring more money into campaigns. It would lift the contribution ban on contractors doing work for the state — that's one way former Gov. John G. Rowland got into trouble — and would allow contractors to give to their local town committees, another influence-buying technique.
This bill is a sorry overreaction by a handful of legislative Democrats who had been faced with last-minute spending by opponents two years ago but couldn't respond because they'd reached spending limits. They all won their races anyway.
As drafted, the bill even attempted to limit voters' choices by trying to outlaw the use of the word "independent" or "independence" in a political party's name on the flimsy pretext that such words confuse voters. Democrats gave up on this particular self-serving change in the election laws.
Connecticut Democrats have obviously learned nothing from the fundraising scandal that brought down the congressional campaign of former state House Speaker Chris Donovan.
Their response? Pass legislation to flood elections with even more private money, some of it questionable. How unworthy.
This editorial was updated to include information on the Senate vote.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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