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What Will Democrats Do?

CAMPAIGN FINANCING Majority party should not be afraid to fix broken reform

Hartford Public Library

December 15, 2009

Will a fix for Connecticut's landmark but broken campaign finance law be an item on the General Assembly's agenda for this month's special session?

The law should be fixed and now, so that candidates for legislature and statewide office who wish to participate in the Citizens Election Program can count on public funds for next year's campaigns. Gov. M. Jodi Rell offers a solution.

Some Republicans want to use all the money in the CEP fund almost $40 million to help balance this year's budget, which is short about half a billion dollars. They'll doubtless stick it to Democrats if the majority party moves to preserve public money for campaigns while human services and other worthy programs are cut to erase the deficit.

The Citizens Election Program was hailed as a national model when it was adopted in 2005, championed by Mrs. Rell and leading Democrats. Candidates who can raise qualifying amounts are given grants of public money to run their campaigns. The idea is to keep special-interest contributions from tainting politics. The program also levels the playing field, encouraging more people to run for office.

But a federal judge in August ruled parts of the law unconstitutional, saying they were unfair to minor party and petitioning candidates. The state is appealing that ruling. The legislature can remedy the situation in time for next year's elections if it acts quickly.

Mrs. Rell has urged lawmakers to act during the special session. She wants them to eliminate the additional qualifying requirements for minor-party and petitioning candidates that offended the court and she wants the legislature to reduce the size of grants.

Reducing the grants is less than ideal. The fund has already contributed $12 million to help balance the budget. But is a smaller program worse than none at all? Once suspended, it's likely the program won't be reinstated. As a guarantor of cleaner politics, it's too important to be sacrificed.

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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