Take Private Money Out Of Public Elections
Connecticut has an extraordinary opportunity to clean up its elections and lead the nation in reform.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has called a special legislative session, challenging legislators to show political leadership and pass campaign finance reforms that would do more than any reform law in the country to make voters count for more and checkbooks count for less. With corruption making headlines and so few opportunities for genuine change, Connecticut must not miss this chance for a clean start with clean elections.
In "clean elections"- publicly financed elections - voters own the campaigns. Clean elections level the playing field by putting constituents in a stronger position to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions. Special access, previously granted to the well-heeled lobbying interests, is taken out of the equation.
Clean elections are already working well in Arizona, North Carolina and Maine. In the next two years, New Mexico, New Jersey and Portland, Ore., will put similar public financing systems to work. In these states, elections have become more about voters and less about raising money. New people are running, offering an array of voices and opinions that were shut out when the system ran exclusively with private funding.
Connecticut voters are on the verge of owning their own elections. Instead of the big checks that now fuel Connecticut campaigns, small, affordable donations would become the norm. Under the proposed reforms, candidates for statewide office and the legislature could qualify for public financing after demonstrating a base of support through a number of low-dollar contributions. The reforms would also sharply restrict the most corrupting contributions that come from professional lobbyists and contractors doing business with state government. If enacted, these reforms would break new ground, making Connecticut a model for all others.
The General Assembly and Gov. Rell should turn these sweeping reforms into law this year to restore the legitimacy of the state's elected officials. In June, the state Senate and the House both passed bills that were identical in principle but disagreed on the details. Connecticut's political leaders then formed a working group to sort out their differences. Now that the group has released its proposal, and the governor has called the legislature into a special session, lawmakers must not fail to pass the consensus reforms that the people of Connecticut need and deserve.
As lawmakers prepare again to tackle the deep problems of the role money plays in politics, we all need to ask ourselves: Who should own our elections? Should it be insider lobbyists and well-heeled special interests in a pay-to-play system? Or should it be the voters?
Connecticut's political leadership will have no easy task in engineering a bipartisan vote to ensure the new system becomes law. However, the incentives to put aside political differences and make substantive change could not be more apparent. Connecticut now has the chance to be a model for the nation while putting the moniker "Corrupticut" to rest.
As the leaders of national organizations that promote common sense governmental reforms, we've heard plenty from people across the country about cleaning up elections. It's time for Connecticut to lead by example - close the door on payoff politics and open the door to equal-opportunity elections.
Kay J. Maxwell, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, lives in Greenwich. Nicholas Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign, a nonpartisan program to reduce special-interest money in politics, lives in Durham.
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