Campaign Finance Reform Becomes Law

*Governor signs landmark legislation

By Mark Pazniokas, Courant Staff Writer

Her own party was largely absent, but Democrats and progressive activists applauded Wednesday as Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law one of the nation's most sweeping campaign finance bills.

Rell chose the Old State House, sitting at a table beneath a Gilbert Stuart portrait of a watchful George Washington, for a ceremony marking the unlikely passage of a bill hailed as a national model of reform.

FLANKED BY LAWMAKERS and state officials, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signs the state’s new campaign finance reforms into law in a ceremony beneath a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington at the Old State House in Hartford Wednesday. Lawmakers who helped pass the legislation, including House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, right, applaud.
FLANKED BY LAWMAKERS and state officials, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signs the state’s new campaign finance reforms into law in a ceremony beneath a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington at the Old State House in Hartford Wednesday. Lawmakers who helped pass the legislation, including House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, right, applaud.



The new law bans contributions from lobbyists and state contractors and creates a voluntary system of publicly financing campaigns for state office, beginning with the 2008 legislative races.

"By signing this bill into law today, perhaps we can ignite another revolution - perhaps we can revolutionize our system of elections and how they are financed," Rell said.

For much of the year, Rell and the legislature's Democratic leadership worked at cross-purposes, offering competing plans and blaming each other for the failure to adopt reforms in the wake of a corruption scandal that forced Gov. John G. Rowland from office.

On Wednesday, House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, complimented Rell for repeatedly reviving the issue when it seemed ready to die.

"For a woman, you've got pretty good muscles that you flexed," Amann said, sending laughter through the old Senate chamber. Williams praised Rell for her courage in "helping us to see this through."

Neither man mentioned that only eight Republicans - four in each chamber - joined Democrats in passing the measure, 27-8 in the Senate and 82-65 in the House after combined debates of nearly 14 hours.

House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford, and Senate Minority Leader Louis C. DeLuca, R-Woodbury, opposed the bill as riddled with loopholes, such as allowing the major parties to pump unlimited funds into individual legislative races.

Critics have also charged that the bill discriminates against minor party candidates. A legal challenge over its treatment of minor parties, and the blanket ban on contributions from lobbyists and contractors appear likely.

"It is true. No bill is perfect and we will find that it will be necessary to make adjustments and changes," Williams said.

But he urged Rell and the others present to enjoy their accomplishment and focus for a while on how the legislation was greeted by reformers across the country.

"They cannot believe what we have done. No other state has taken this kind of strong action to clean up politics," Williams said.

Rell appreciated the sentiment.

"We're spending so much time focusing on what's wrong with the bill," Rell said. "Let's focus on the fact that we actually got this bill passed in Connecticut. So many people thought that it would never happen. It happened."

After the House passed the bill last week, Amann belittled Rell for failing to deliver more Republican votes. On Wednesday, he acknowledged after the ceremony that the persistence of Rell and the advocates kept the issue alive.

He told Democrats, many of whom voted for the measure reluctantly, that the issue would dog them until they acted.

"I tried to tell my legislators if we didn't do that this would be a cloud, a dark-cloud issue hanging over our heads the whole election," Amann said. "That's why I said, `Do it now. Do the bill now. It's not going away. It's inevitable we are voting on this bill, so step up to the plate and do it.'"

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., one of Rell's Democratic challengers for governor, attended the ceremony to remind reporters that his city already is embracing public financing for mayor. City aldermen voted unanimously Monday to apply for inclusion in a pilot program for municipalities authorized by the new law.

Jeffrey B. Garfield, the executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, peeked over Rell's shoulder as she signed the bill. He had just returned from an international ethics conference in Boston, where, he said, the legislation was well-received.

"There is no question we are now the model for the country to follow," Garfield said. "It was nice to see Connecticut get credit for cleaning up its own act."

Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant


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