All Aboard For Campaign Reform
Rell, leaders on record in support
Senate Democrats, after two glum days watching Gov. M. Jodi
Rell and Republican legislators run away with the
Democratic bedrock issue of campaign finance reform, got
into the game Friday.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr.,
D-Brooklyn, belatedly embraced Rell and Senate Republicans
for dropping the GOP's opposition to public financing. He
"We welcome them to the fight, the fight for complete
public financing, as we discussed at the beginning of this
session," Williams said. "It's the right thing to do."
Williams and the Senate Democratic majority immediately
upped the ante, pledging to craft a proposal that would
include a sustainable source of funding.
Public financing is estimated to cost as much as $30
million in an election year in which the legislature and
all statewide constitutional offices are up for election.
It could cost as little as $10 million for legislative
races alone, advocates said.
Legislative elections are held every two years. The
governor and other statewide constitutional officers hold
four-year terms. The next statewide election will be in
2006, but the public financing plan under consideration
would not take effect until 2010.
Rell has not explained how she would pay for public
financing of all state offices, and has proposed deferring
the difficult question of money until next year.
"For whatever reason, on the Republican side they have not
identified a funding source for this," Williams said. "We
will identify a public financing funding source."
Williams spoke at a press conference outside the Senate
chamber, flanked by most members of the Senate Democratic
majority. His comments ended an awkward 36 hours in which
the Democrats seemed adrift.
"I was quite frankly stunned at the complete reversal by
the Republicans," Williams said. "They have vehemently
opposed public financing in the past."
Williams and other Democrats said they struggled with
trying to decide if Rell's reversal was genuine - or a ploy
to embarrass Democrats and derail their reform plan.
"I have to say I still have those doubts," Williams said.
"But you know what? Let's plow ahead and see if we can get
The governor and every legislative leader are now on record
as being either supportive of, or open to public financing,
but reform advocates worried that some of the key players
may be more interested in political gain than actual
"At the end of the day, people in Connecticut are going to
measure success by what is enacted, not what everyone is
talking about," said Andy Sauer of Common Cause.
Rell's proposal - she will accept public financing if
legislators agree to ban or restrict various forms of
special interest money - became widely known Wednesday
House Democrats, after initially voicing suspicion of
Rell's sincerity, announced that afternoon they would work
with the Republican governor.
Senate Republicans, even though some were privately furious
with Rell's abandonment of what had been Republican
orthodoxy, also pledged their support.
On Thursday morning, Rell's senior aides began discussing
how to craft a bill with House Democrats and House and
Senate Republicans. No Democratic senator attended, though
a staff member monitored the talks.
By evening, after William's press conference, Sen. Donald
J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain, joined the talks in the
second-floor conference room outside the office of Rell's
chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody.
Rell welcomed the Senate Democrats.
"I am pleased that Senate Democrats have agreed to join the
growing bipartisan coalition that is embracing the bold
proposal I offered for genuine campaign finance reform,"
Rell said. "There are only a few days left in the session,
but I am optimistic that an agreement may be reached to
give Connecticut the most comprehensive campaign finance
reform in the nation."
Her spokesman, Dennis Schain, said Rell was willing to
consider including a funding mechanism in a reform
"If we can find a fair and dependable funding mechanism,
it's certainly a topic worth pursuing," Schain said.
Advocates of public financing said any funding source must
be self-sustainable; otherwise the legislature can kill the
program by failing to appropriate money.
Massachusetts voters approved the public financing of
campaigns years ago, but the legislature never agreed to
Jeffrey B. Garfield, the executive director of the State
Elections Enforcement Commission, said resolving the source
of funds now was a reasonable demand.
"It gives the public assurance that the legislature is
really committed to seeing the public financing program
through. So I agree that would be the preferred method of
addressing this," Garfield said.
In the first day of negotiations, Senate and House
Republicans made clear they were not entirely in agreement
The governor is willing to delay implementation until 2010
as a price for what would be the strongest campaign finance
bill in the nation, but GOP lawmakers want some Democratic
concessions next year.
Senate Minority Leader Louis C. DeLuca, R-Woodbury, said
his caucus's support was contingent on Democrats agreeing
to ban contributions from lobbyists and state contractors
and to restrict political action committees in 2006.
The Republicans also want to immediately close a notorious
loophole, a provision that allows corporations and other
businesses to give lawmakers money by buying space in
campaign ad books.
House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford,
said he wants similar concessions next year in return for
the public financing of legislative races in 2008 or
"If they want public financing in '08, it should be easy to
give up special interest money in '06," Ward said.
Reform advocates from Common Cause and other groups watched
the jousting, trying to determine who was more interested
in finding reasons to kill the bill.
"Are they really off the bill over this little stuff?"
asked Karen Hobert-Flynn, a member of Clean Up Connecticut,
a coalition of reform advocates.
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