Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday vetoed a controversial campaign finance bill that drew opposition from civil liberties groups and business leaders.
HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday struck down campaign finance legislation that would have instituted sweeping changes to the rules governing how elections in Connecticut are funded.
House Bill 5556, which cleared both chambers of the General Assembly in the waning days of the session, had drawn opposition from civil liberties groups, business leaders and newspapers.
Malloy concluded that it would have gone too far and that parts could have been deemed unconstitutional.
"House Bill 5556 would have a chilling effect on issue advocacy and neutral debates about matters of public concern that should be the hallmark of our democracy," the governor wrote in a three-page veto message.
The campaign finance bill was one of five that Malloy vetoed Friday, bringing his total to eight from this year's regular legislative session.
Malloy said he has long been an advocate of transparency in campaign finance but cited the bill's "many legal and practical problems."
The Connecticut chapter of Common Cause, a leading proponent of the measure, released a statement expressing disappointment in the governor's decision.
"Common Cause believes he has squandered an opportunity to pass the strongest disclosure bill in the country" said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of the group's Connecticut branch. "When Governor Rell and leaders in the House and Senate chose to reject the corruption of the past and pass into law the Citizens' Election program in 2005, Connecticut became a leader in the nation for campaign finance reform. That reform is at risk from secret special interest spending in our state elections. HB 5556 would have strengthened our landmark program.
Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said another campaign finance bill could be negotiated in the future.
"There were some good elements in the bill," he said. "But as the governor's veto statement makes clear, other parts of the bill were unconstitutional. This governor's a lawyer. He typically doesn't sign bills that he knows to be unconstitutional."
The bill was opposed by an unlikely alliance of interests, including the pro-business Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU said the measure probably would have violated the right to free association, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, by requiring groups to identify individual donors.
Malloy agreed. "Whether an individual wishes to associate with an organization — whether it is the ACLU or the NRA — the First Amendment protects the right to do so anonymously," he wrote.
CBIA strongly objected to a part of the bill that would have instituted broad new reporting requirements regarding campaign contributions. It would have required the boards of directors of any corporation or nonprofit to vote every time that entity spent more than $4,000 in a political expenditure.
Currently, large corporations only convene their boards for huge issues and never sign off on spending as low as $4,000. The board would not only need to convene, but the vote by the board would need to be published on the company's website within 48 hours. The corporations said that boards of directors are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the corporation and only set broad policies. A lower-level employee in the company would be approving expenses at the level of $4,000.
The bill also contained a provision to permit members of the military serving overseas to return their absentee ballots by fax or email, provided they waive their right to a secret ballot.
Malloy said he found that, too, problematic. "I do not support any mechanism of voting that would require an individual to waive his or her constitutional rights in order to cast a timely, secret ballot, even if such waiver is voluntary," he wrote.
Malloy also pointed out that the state's chief elections official, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, had concerns about the proposal. Merrill expressed concerns that technology has not advanced to the point that it guarantees the security of ballots case by fax or email.
In addition to his veto of the campaign finance legislation, Malloy refused to sign four other pieces of legislation. Those bills would have done the following:
—Allowed the use of formaldehyde-based insulation.
—Extended sales tax on the winter storage of boats.
—Exempted fish and game constables appointed by Hartford County towns from some training requirements.
—Modified laws governing the ability of condominium boards to enter into loan agreements.
The governor did sign 95 pieces of legislation from both the regular and special sessions Friday, according to a spokesman. Among those were a bill, passed in a special session earlier this week, to implement the state's $20.5 billion budget for the coming fiscal year.
In total, Malloy has signed 211 bills, including those from the regular and special sessions, in addition to his eight vetoes.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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