Rowland The Reformer?
We've read with interest the many articles on the Rowland
scandal, and we wonder if we are missing something. Sure,
the guy lied. He accepted gifts from people with direct
interests in state contracts, and then he covered up. This
is intolerable behavior that cannot be excused. But
impeachment seems too easy.
This is bigger than John G. Rowland. This is about
protecting Connecticut from future abuses and corruption,
not simply the current problem. Throwing Rowland out would
be a waste considering what lawmakers can do with him in
power. With one swoop of his pen, Gov. Rowland could go
from crony of special interests to champion of the public
Thomas Jefferson once wrote: "The spirit of the times may
alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our
people careless .. It can never be too often repeated that
the time for fixing every essential right ... is while our
rulers are honest and ourselves united."
With Rowland in power, both of Jefferson's conditions would
be met. First, there is bipartisan consensus that political
corruption exists and must end. Second, Connecticut has a
governor who has promised to go to great lengths to reclaim
the trust and respect of his constituents.
With Rowland out of power, there is a real chance that this
bipartisan consensus would disintegrate. Gone will be the
urgency for reform. In its place will be a false sense of
comfort - Connecticut got rid of the bad apple, and
something like this will never happen again.
But it will happen again.
This is not some cynical reflection on human nature, but a
real-world look at the current system of campaign financing
and its effects on governance. Connecticut has the
opportunity to go beyond addressing simply the giving of
hot tubs. After all, it may not be hot tubs next time.
Less obvious, and thus potentially more dangerous, are
private campaign contributions, which can buy a lot more
than a hot bath. As long as private interests have a stake
in public contracts, state funds and regulation laws, those
private interests will continue contributing large sums of
money to candidates' election campaigns in the effort to
gain leverage and access in the political process.
Because money matters so much, because the candidate with
the most money wins more than nine out of 10 times, it is
all but impossible to elect politicians free from
special-interest debt. A narrow prescription that only
addresses hot tub-giving will not address the broader
culture of corruption.
So what to do?
Today, Connecticut's campaign finance laws do little.
Because the laws address only the supply of campaign
contributions (providing certain limits on donations), the
demand for such contributions remains unaddressed.
Three years ago, the legislature passed a clean-money
campaign-reform bill that would have addressed head-on the
demand for campaign contributions by substituting private
money with public money.
It was a great idea. The only problem was that Gov. John G.
Rowland vetoed the bill.
Six states across the country have done what Rowland
refused to do. By enacting clean-money campaign reform,
candidates and incumbents in those states now spend their
time on issues, not on a money chase. As a result, more
people run for office, more races are contested and more
people vote in those states. Furthermore, those elected
officials are accountable to voters, not donors. With
publicly financed campaigns, there are no private
contributors to owe favors.
Under a clean-money system, candidates have a choice: They
can continue to collect large sums of special-interest
money and be beholden to those interests once in office, or
they can choose to accept public money and be beholden to
the public interest.
In his most recent address to the state, Rowland said: "I
humbly ask for a renewed opportunity to earn back your
trust, to redeem myself in your eyes and to continue to
lead this state." If he wants trust, he needs to earn it.
And what better way to earn it than by signing a campaign
finance reform bill into law.
Claudio Gualtieri of Newington and Drew Warshaw of New
York City co-founded Democracy Matters of Cornell
University, a nonpartisan, student-based organization
committed to comprehensive campaign and election reform.
They graduated in May and are both working in Washington,
Gualtieri as a clerk in Congress and Warshaw for a
progressive think tank.
See the article on Hartford Courant website