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Spooked Democrats Hollow Out Election Finance Reform

Latest 'reform' opens the dollar floodgate

Hartford Courant Editorial

July 12, 2013

Democrats in the General Assembly are certain they saved Connecticut's landmark system of publicly financing elections by passing "reforms" signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last month.

The question now is whether the vaunted Citizens Election Program which sought to limit the influence of special interest money in elections is worth saving.

The Democrats were sobered by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case that allows boxcars full of dollars from corporations, wealthy individuals, political action committees and unions to influence elections.

Further, they were spooked by the large amounts of outside money dumped into 2012 campaigns against certain Democratic state Senate and House candidates, many of whom were participating in the voluntary public financing program and its comparatively limited grants.

And the prospect of going into the 2014 election with the governorship at risk and unlimited outside spending against them also motivated Democrats to loosen up the state's campaign finance laws.

Their answer? Leave in place the public financing grants, but remove the cap on how much money state political parties can spend on publicly funded candidates, and double the amount contributors can give to party committees.

In other words, they opened a fresh torrent of outside money flowing into campaigns, negating the wholesome purpose of the Citizens Election Program. The landmark program wasn't saved by this year's legislation; it was very nearly destroyed.

To add insult to injury, the changes eliminate prison penalties for serious violations of election law and get rid of the need to identify donors of less than $5,000.

There is no easy answer to the question of how a candidate or a party responds to the Citizens United decision in a conscientious way. How can a candidate who lacks access to really big money gain some measure of parity? That awful decision needs to be overturned by the high court, but that day is likely a long way off.

We'll give Connecticut's Democrats credit for trying to strike the proper balance. But it sure isn't the "Citizens" election program any longer.

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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