Election Law Changes: What happened to Gov. Rell, the great reformer?
Hartford Courant editorial
August 05, 2010
The General Assembly should override Gov. M. Jodi Rell's veto of a bill passed last week to fix constitutional errors found by the federal courts in Connecticut's clean elections program.
A veto override — although enough House votes may be hard to come by — is the decent thing to do. The bill passed by the legislature is a better fix than that proposed by the governor, who said Wednesday she is ready to call another special session.
Candidates for statewide office and legislature this year made campaign decisions — such as whether to try to qualify for grants of public money or to raise campaign money outside of the voluntary public financing system — based on the law as it was originally written.
Candidates for governor knew that if they were their party's nominee and participated in the reform program, they would get a basic grant of $3 million for the general election in November. They could also get up to $3 million more in supplemental grants based on the spending of a wealthy non-participating rival.
But the federal court recently struck down the supplemental grants, ruling that they are an unconstitutional infringement on the free-speech rights of candidates not participating in the voluntary public financing system.
The legislature responded last week by doubling the basic grant in the gubernatorial contest and eliminating the supplemental grants.
Mrs. Rell vetoed the bill on Monday, saying the state couldn't afford it.
The state can afford the costs of a program that cleans up politics. Besides, the doubled grant is not new spending. The amount has already been budgeted. The vast majority of the money comes not directly from taxpayers, but from the state's abandoned property fund.
The veto is outrageously unfair to candidates for governor — Republican Mike Fedele and Democrat Dan Malloy — who have played by the clean election rules and will be depending, if they win their party's nominations in the primary next Tuesday, on being provided more than the original basic grant of $3 million if they need it.
Mr. Fedele and Mr. Malloy conceivably could be facing self-financed multimillionaires in the general election.
Hypocrisy At Work?
Five years ago, Mrs. Rell hailed the legislature's passage of the Citizens' Election Program. She worked hard for the reform and saw it as a landmark achievement. She has repeatedly touted it one of her legacies as governor.
On Friday, she dismissed her cherished reform as "a welfare program for politicians."
Hypocrisy or partisanship is at work here — possibly an attempt to limit Mr. Malloy's campaign war chest to $3 million if he is the Democratic nominee for governor.
Mrs. Rell, a Republican, says $3 million is enough to run a general election campaign for governor. Not now. Not when wealthy candidates can spend multiples of that amount.
The governor is right about one thing: Lobbyist contributions allowed under the legislature-passed bill should not be permitted to count as "qualifying" contributions for public financing.
Still, her veto of the bill passed last Friday should be overridden.
If the basic grant for gubernatorial nominees remains at a too-low $3 million, the reform program — designed to level the playing field, draw more candidates and limit the influence of special-interest money — is likely doomed. Serious and qualified candidates will not want to participate. They will look to private interests instead to finance their campaigns.
Connecticut has worked too hard to rid itself of the nickname "Corrupticut" to let that happen.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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