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Overdose Of Campaign Mud No Reason To Scuttle Public Financing

Election Advertising: Barring public finance recipients from using negative ads is wrong

Hartford Courant editorial

August 11, 2010

Some highly placed people such as Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Senate Republican Leader John McKinney don't like the fact that recipients of public campaign funds from Connecticut's clean elections program use the money to buy distasteful political advertising.

Unfortunately, in an exercise of demagogy, they used the proliferation of negative advertising this campaign season as a reason to oppose the General Assembly's recent passage of a bill that increases the basic grant of public funds to participating gubernatorial nominees from $3 million to $6 million in the general election.

"I cannot in good conscience endorse an additional $6 million in public funding that will be used by candidates to bombard each other and the public with a relentless series of negative messages from now until November," Mrs. Rell said last week in the message announcing a veto that was overridden in the Senate and faces possible override in the House.

Curiously, Mrs. Rell still wants to be known as the chief author of this reform and its public financing feature.

For his part, Mr. McKinney said it's "wrong" to feed public money "to politicians to run that crap."

Lawmakers had increased the grant in an attempt to fix a flaw in the clean elections program found by a federal appeals court.

Other opponents of negative advertising or campaign finance reform or both would forbid recipients of public funds under the clean elections program from using any of the money on "negative advertising."

That can't be done, of course. Who's to judge what is impermissibly negative? The state has no business imposing such limits on a candidate's campaign even if the candidate is accepting public funds.

We're fed up with "negative advertising," too. But the answer for offended voters is not for the governor to cripple reform by keeping grants so low that the program doesn't attract participants, or for the state to try to police the content of (only) the campaigns of recipients of public funds.

The remedy lies at the polls, where each voter, if he or she thinks it important enough, can pin accountability for the quality of campaign advertising right where it belongs on the candidate.

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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