HARTFORD — — Overriding a veto by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the state House of Representatives on Friday approved a bill that safeguards the state's landmark program of public financing for political candidates.
The 106-30 vote clears the way for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dannel Malloy to access to $6 million in public campaign funds. The Senate passed an override vote last week.
The fix for the Citizen's Election Program was needed after a judge ruled certain aspects unconstitutional.
The legislature's action almost certainly will end the litigation still pending in the state and federal courts from the original constitutionality challenge by minor political parties and state contractors. Those unresolved issues are before the U.S. District Court and the state Supreme Court.
Malloy hailed Friday's vote, which will help him compete against his wealthy Republican opponent, Tom Foley.
"Today, the legislature saw fit to preserve a system that gives candidates who aren't wealthy a chance to compete and the ability to run a campaign that isn't funded by corporate and special interests," Malloy said in an e-mail.
Republicans called the bill an expensive subsidy for politicians that the state cannot afford. No GOP lawmakers broke ranks to support the bill; Rep. Shawn Johnston of Thompson was the only Democrat voting against it.
"This bill affects one person,'' said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, a Norwalk Republican. And, he added, it comes at a time "when citizens across this state and public officials of Connecticut are scrambling to find every nickel to pay our bills.''
Chris Healy, chairman of the state GOP, brought a tin cup with a dollar bill tucked inside and a photocopied picture of Dan Malloy's face taped to the front.
Said Healy: "This is just another example of Democrats spending money we don't have. … Mr. and Mrs. taxpayer of Connecticut are now having to fork over money for someone's political speech that they may not agree with. It's unbelievable.''
The Foley campaign, which went to court to stop Republican rival Michael Fedele from accessing public funds, decried the vote, calling it an example of "old-school, machine-style politics."
"The vote by the Democrat-controlled legislature today is indicative of the game playing that has been going on in Hartford for far too long,'' Foley campaign chief Justin Clark said via e-mail. He called the override "an attempt to buy this year's gubernatorial election for their party.''
Rell issued a statement expressing her disappointment. "Since its creation, the program has been used successfully by Republicans and Democrats alike. Today, however, the majority party has seized upon this moment to transform the CEP — a set of reforms that had been considered a national model — into a welfare program for politicians and a war chest for the impending, inevitable barrage of nasty, negative advertising and 'robo-calls.' ''
The Citizens' Election Program is funded by the sale of unclaimed property, and Democrats point out that the money has already been allocated.
Democrats dismiss the notion that the bill will affect Malloy only.
"The bill is not about one individual person,'' said Rep. Jamie Spallone, a Democrat from Essex and co-chair of the legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee. "The bill is written as any legislation is, to govern all elections.''
Democratic Rep. Corky Mazurek of Wolcott was one of 15 lawmakers who changed their votes, from "no" two weeks ago to "yes" on Friday.
Mazurek said he did so as a matter of fairness to Malloy and any other candidate who entered the race expecting the full grant. Malloy was "operating under a certain set of rules. And that set of rules said if your opponent outspends you by X amount, then we'll give you X amount of money,'' he said. "We changed the rules in the middle of the game.''
"I hate this bill,'' Mazurek added. "I have voted every single time against it and I'll continue to [try to] get rid of it, but a promise is a promise.''
The new law doubles the amount of the initial grant to participating candidates to $6 million. Under the old law, participating candidates received $3 million in initial grants. They could have qualified for up to an additional $3 million if they were widely outspent by an opponent, and yet another $3 million, for a total of $9 million, if they were the subject of attack ads by special interests.
But the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those supplemental, or "trigger," provisions were unconstitutional because they imposed "a substantial burden on the exercise of the First Amendment" rights of advocacy groups and of candidates who choose to privately or self-finance their campaigns.
Beth Rotman, who directs the public campaign finance program for the state, said both courts are expected to dismiss their respective matters upon receiving official notification of the legislative override.
Candidates participating in the Citizens' Election Program do not have to raise money to qualify for public campaign financing in the general election if, like Malloy, they previously qualified during the primary campaign.
Courant Staff Writer Edmund H. Mahony contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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