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Lawmakers Plan Friday Session To Save Campaign Finance Law

By EDMUND H. MAHONY

July 28, 2010

When the state legislature meets in special session Friday in an effort to salvage the state's landmark campaign finance reform law, it likely will remove three key provisions that a federal appeals court found unconstitutional earlier this month.

Legislative leaders plan to continue working through Thursday to choose among draft proposals to replace the legally defective parts of the law and expect to have proposed legislation prepared by Friday.

"We had our meeting of course with the governor and the Republican leaders today and there is, I think, a significant amount of agreement," state Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said. "We want to preserve the system, therefore we are in agreement to sever those parts of the statute that the court had problems with."

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on July 13 upheld the core of the sweeping public finance and reform law, which provides public campaign financing for candidates for state offices. But the court concluded key components amounted to a violation of political free speech.

The court struck down a complete probation against political contributions by lobbyists. And it ruled that two of the law's financing provisions were illegal. The "trigger provisions" released supplemental campaign grants to publicly financed candidates who are widely outspent by privately financed opponents or are the subjects of special interest attack ads.

Williams said the revisions to the law likely will replace the ban against lobbyist contributions with some sort of limiting restriction on what and how they can contribute. One proposal would bar lobbyists from bundling campaign contributions, Williams said.

He said late Wednesday that there is not yet consensus on how to replace the trigger provisions, which were written as an incentive to draw underfunded candidates into races against well-heeled opponents.

Williams said the simple solution would be to increase the initial public grant to candidates accepting state financing under the part of the law known as the citizens election program. Participating gubernatorial candidates now get initial grants of $3 million for general elections. The trigger provision would have provided them with supplemental grants of up to $3 million more.

But increasing the initial grants is likely to hit a road block in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office. Her staff said Wednesday she is "adamantly" opposed to increasing the initial, $3 million campaign grants for budgetary reasons.

"That is more than enough," Rell said in a radio interview recorded and distributed by her office. "And if their opponent is very, very wealthy and wants to spend $20 million, what are we going to do? Give them $8, $10, $12 million, $20 million? The answer is no."

Williams said legislators many of whom are now campaigning on public money want to uphold the law's original intent.

"It certainly was not our intent to keep candidates running for statewide offices having their grants absolutely frozen at the lower level, in the governor's race at the $3 million level," he said.

Williams disputed Rell's contention that raising the initial grants, already factored into current state spending, could create budget problems. He said the original law and current budget contemplated, for example, that gubernatorial candidates would receive as much as $6 million.

"So those funds are available and we want to see if we can live up to the original intent," Williams said.

The top six leaders of the legislature met with Rell Wednesday.

Afterward, Rell said, "All of those candidates that are in the clean elections program were counting on the trigger mechanism if they had a wealthy opponent spending all kinds of money. I am not supporting raising that threshold."

Despite the appeals court ruling, the part of the law that triggers release of supplemental campaign money has been in force through the primary campaigns.

Currently, gubernatorial candidates qualifying for public financing in primaries get a base grant of $1.25 million and then a subsequent grant of another $1.25 million depending how much their opponent spends. Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and former Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy each have received $2.5 million for their campaigns.

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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