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Public Campaign Finance Reform IS The Answer

By Ken Krayeske

June 27, 2013

It is not too late to write the epitaph for the Hartford Courant. Thomas Greene, we loved your child through the centuries, but today, the Courant has ceased to serve citizens, and instead, is accountable to only its out of state billionaire tycoon master.

Why do we proclaim the Courant dead, as if its death throes werenít back in the 1990s? A political news event of significance in Hartford occurred Monday night, and the daily failed to cover it.

Monday night, Hartfordís Court of Common Council passed the recommendations of the Charter Revision Commission. The cityís paper of record featured no story on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. And Thursday, it will dozens of column inches about the latest celebrity death match: the killer tight end.

I could not attend Mondayís meeting, as I had to go to an Aldermanic Affairs Committee meeting in New Haven. However, my curiosity was killing me Tuesday morning.

After ringing a few people in the know, I finally reached Jim Sargent, Council President Shawn Woodenís aide, who explained Councilís vote. I donít have many of the particulars on the vote, and the most important aspect of this story is yet to come.

On election day in November, a simple majority of voters can create public campaign financing for Mayor, Council and City Treasurer, and to create a non-partisan registrarís of voters office.

Put another way, less than 600 people can change the face of Hartford politics for generations, and the Courant has said nothing about it. The last Board of Education election in Hartford saw less than 1,000 people turnout to vote.

That means, a simple majority can end the perception of pay to play politics in the City of Hartford. Fifty-one percent of voters can eliminate partisan politics in the registrarsí of voters office. (I should note that as a lawyer, I represent Working Families Party registrar Urania Petit in various professional matters.)

This is monumental. Yet it is tragic that it went unreported by the Courant. On Tuesday night, I stopped into Salute on Trumbull for a beer with the Hartford County Bar Association. I bumped into State Rep. Matt Ritter, also an attorney. But he was just there picking up dinner, not to rub elbows with fellow lawyers.

Ritter and I spoke about how big of a story Charter revision is, and how stupefying it is that the Courant missed it. After Rep. Ritter left, I ended up in a conversation with state Rep. Larry Cafero.

Iím glad I had a beer in me, because Iíve written harshly about him lately in this column, and online in comments. The attempted bribery of Cafero by the unseemly Ray Soucy, the union hack turned FBI-informant who brought down former Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, left Cafero looking in a bad light.

I consider the whole affair unsavory for a number of reasons. Yet, for my part, I was wrong. Cafero was upset with me for not calling him and getting his point of view. He maintains he did nothing wrong.

He looked me in the eye most of the time we spoke, and we talked for the better part of an hour. His body language exudes confidence. Cafero called me out for not contacting him, and he was right. I was wrong.

From Caferoís point of view, he was tried by the media, and unfairly tarred and feathered by a criminal trial where he had no due process rights. While columnist Kevin Rennie seemed to point out Caferoís mistruths in his columns, Rennie never called Cafero.

Cafero maintains his side of the story was never sought, and he was accused of doing something he never did. Cafero and I agree how much it stings to have gallons of ink spilled wrongly accusing you of doing something, and it bites a little worse to lack the opportunity to counter the venom spit at you.

It is hard to avoid the unseemly nature of the videotape of Soucy leaving the $5,000 cash in Caferoís fridge. Unsavory. Cafero rejected this characterization, as he said he did everything by the book: he told his staffer to punch out and accept the donation for the Political Action Committee off Legislative Office Building grounds.

They rejected the cash, and Soucy came back with checks. The check s appeared fine. When the FBI came calling, Cafero said his stomach dropped. Iíve been there. But the FBI didnít charge him, and Cafero maintains he is exonerated.

Yet my problem is with the $5,000.00 in the first place. On average, less than one percent of registered voters in any election donate to candidates.

If money is speech, a speaker who gives $1,000 to a political action committee is expecting an audience for that donation. Money amplifies the political power of a donor, and erases the supposed equality of one man/one vote.

For my part, I agree with scholars who say Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 Supreme Court decision equating money with speech, is the original sin of campaign finance reform. I understand candidates need money to run for office. But I want politicians who run to get money without strings attached.

My problem is with the fact that people can give $1,000.00 a pop to a political party. My problem is with the Democrats in the House and the executive branch who just created a law allowing more dark money to flow into state party coffers. Who will unilaterally disarm in this mad money race?

Cafero admitted I am not naÔve, but he disagreed with my characterization of the quid-pro-quo nature of political donations. He said no one has ever bought him, and he has never profited from his office, which he has held for decades.

Thatís great. Caferoís integrity may have survived the Donovan/Soucy affair, but what about the dozens of other examples of politicians in Connecticut Ė too long to list here and make deadline Ė that have been unable to resist the temptations and trappings of decadence corruption?

An original supporter of the first round of campaign finance reform, Cafero has been against it since. He said he should not be compelled to support a party he doesnít agree with, like the Working Families Party.

He asked if I thought the WFP was a legitimate party. I replied I donít even think the Democratic and Republican Parties are legitimate parties. More than a third of registered voters in Connecticut are unaffiliated for a reason.

Furthermore, taxpayers already support Democratic and Republican party institutions. Party primary laws are written into statues. Local taxpayers finance Republican and Democratic Party registrars. I donít think registrars offices anywhere work very well, not when we have the pitiful turnout rates we have.

Cafero thinks he did everything by the book, and that makes what happened ok. I think the book itself is the problem. We need change. Which brings us back to the top. Vote in November for public campaign finance reform.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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