Legislature Passes Reform Package
Bill overhauls campaign laws
The General Assembly approved the nation's most sweeping
campaign finance reforms early today, transforming
Connecticut into a political laboratory.
The House voted 82-65 to give final approval at 2:44 a.m.
and sent the bill to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who set
aside minor reservations about the Democratic measure and
promised to sign it into law.
"This legislation makes Connecticut a national leader on
campaign finance reform," said Rell, who called for limits
on so-called special interest money in January. "It can't
happen soon enough."
The legislation bans contributions by lobbyists, their
spouses, and state contractors, limits political action
committees, closes a loophole that permits corporate
donations and creates a voluntary system of public
By overhauling campaign laws crafted 30 years ago after the
Watergate scandal, the bill upends long-established
relationships between power and money, though few would
predict precisely what might rise in their place.
"It's an exciting experiment, and we'll learn as we go,"
said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr.,
D-Brooklyn. "What's most important, we're bringing the
process back to the grass roots. And we're freeing elected
officials from the pursuit of special interest money."
SEN. DONALD DEFRONZO, D-New Britain, is congratulated
by Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr.,
D-Brooklyn, and other colleagues after the campaign
finance reform bill he sponsored was passed after about
seven hours of debate in a special session.
The Senate approved the bill Wednesday night, 27-8, after
spending nearly seven hours debating the final version of a
119-page bill that was not delivered to lawmakers until
A substantially complete working draft was available
Tuesday, but Republicans in both chambers said they
resented Democrats' forcing a quick vote.
Rell and her staff, however, tried to line up Republican
votes in the House.
The governor ignored a slap directed at her deep in the
bill: a provision banning elected officials from
state-funded public service ads a year before an election,
which would take ads featuring Rell off the air.
Legislators would still be allowed to continue their
"It's the ultimate in hypocrisy," said Rep. Robert Farr,
Among the Senate's 24 Democrats, only Joan Hartley of
Waterbury voted against the bill. The Democratic majority
was joined in passing the bill by four Republicans: John A.
Kissel of Enfield, Thomas J. Herlihy of Simsbury, Leonard
A. Fasano of North Haven and Anthony Guglielmo of
Only four House Republicans voted for the measure, despite
Rell's support: Al Adinolfi of Cheshire, Antonietta Boucher
of Wilton, Raymond C. Kalinowski of Durham and Diana S.
Urban of North Stonington.
House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, belittled Rell's
efforts on behalf of the bill.
"She delivered four votes today," he said. "It's
unfortunate we didn't get more Republican support."
The bill takes effect Dec. 31, 2006, after the end of the
current election cycle and apply for the first time to the
2008 state legislative campaigns. Under most circumstances,
qualifying candidates would be given $25,000 for House and
$85,000 for Senate races.
In 2010, gubernatorial candidates would be eligible for
$1.25 million to wage primaries and $3 million for
Qualifying candidates whose opponents exceed the spending
limits could obtain further state grants to match their
opponent, up to double the original grant.
To qualify for the public financing, candidates would have
to earn a place on the ballot and further show their
viability by raising seed money.
A gubernatorial candidate, for example, would have to raise
$250,000 in contributions of no more than $100 each, with
90 percent of the money raised within the state. House and
Senate candidates would need $5,000 and $15,000,
Legislative analysts estimate the new Citizens' Election
Fund would cost $16 million annually. The money for the
public financing would come from unclaimed property, such
as long-forgotten bank accounts, that is collected each
year and turned over to the state's general fund.
With its passage early this morning, the Connecticut
General Assembly became the first legislature in the nation
to pass a far-reaching public financing bill. Arizona and
Maine adopted public financing through binding
Tom Swan of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group said
national reform groups have closely followed the
"They view this as a significant solution to the culture of
corruption in Washington," Swan said.
Watching the debate was Sidney Garvais, who founded Common
Cause of Connecticut in 1971, when reformers clamored for
the legislature to open its meetings to the public, then
moved on to campaign finance issues after Watergate.
"I've been waiting for 31 years for this," Garvais said
outside the Senate Chamber.
"I'm so glad you saw it," said Jeffrey B. Garfield, the
executive director of the State Elections Enforcement
"It was worth the wait," Garvais said.
Not everyone celebrated.
Critics said the new system would have loopholes that allow
party committees to pick up significant expenses for
candidates. Republicans said the new rules should apply to
the 2006 campaigns for the General Assembly and
Rell has announced she will not accept lobbyist and
"Gov. Rell is leading by example. I think we would do well
to lead by example," said Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen.
Roraback said he could have voted for the public financing
bill had it taken effect immediately.
Democrats said changing the rules in the middle of an
election cycle would be chaotic.
By banning contributions by lobbyists and contractors, the
legislators set aside warnings by constitutional experts
that a total ban might infringe on free-speech rights.
Several senators, including some supporters, predicted a
"I've heard people say, 'Oh, Andrew, just vote for it. Let
the courts figure it out,' " said Sen. Andrew McDonald,
D-Stamford, co-chairman of the judiciary committee.
McDonald complained that he was rebuffed when he suggested
limiting total contributions by any one lobbyist to $2,500
in any election cycle.
"That would be clearly constitutional, and it would also
clearly diminish any undue influence by lobbyists,"
But Rell and leaders of the Democratic legislative
majority, who spent much of the year jockeying to take
ownership of the issue, evidently wanted the clarity and
simplicity of a total ban.
Opponents and supporters acknowledged that the complex bill
would have unintended consequences -- one of which arose
during the debate when Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury,
rose to ask a question: Would the legislation prohibit him
from making donations? His wife is a lobbyist for Anthem
Blue Cross, and the lobbyist ban applies to spouses.
Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, a leading proponent of
the bill, replied, "The answer is yes." "It seems a little
ridiculous that a sitting state senator can't partake in
certain political activities," Cappiello said.
Under the bill, qualifying candidates who agree to spending
limits can obtain grants to finance primary and general
The general election grants range from $25,000 for a House
race to $3 million for governor. Primary grants generally
would range from $10,000 in a House district to $1.25
million for governor. In districts dominated by one party,
when the primary is the decisive election, candidates could
receive larger grants. Candidates unopposed by a major
party candidate in November would see their
general-election grant reduced by 70 percent.
Petitioning and third-party candidates face significant, if
not impossible hurdles to qualifying for a full grant. The
bill requires them to collect signatures from 20 percent of
House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford,
said Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who was elected governor as a
third-party candidate, would have needed 200,000 signatures
to obtain public financing.
"If you are afraid the Green Party will beat you, vote for
the bill," Ward said during the House debate.
Others complained Wednesday that the legislation provides
public money for campaigns without placing any restrictions
on how it can be used, raising the prospect that
Connecticut will be treated in the near future to publicly
financed negative ads.
Williams said negative ads are impossible to define in
"One person's negative ad is another person's expose of
someone's voting record, which is completely fair game,"
The bill does attempt to discourage negative ads by
requiring that all mailings and ads be strongly linked to
the candidate by including the candidate's name and
photograph. Broadcast ads must include his voice. Automated
phone calls, which campaigns often use to persuade voters
with criticism of opponents, must include the sponsoring
candidate's name and voice.
Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant
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