Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform Stalls

Senate, House Pass Different Bills on Last Day of Session

The legislative session will end tonight at midnight, and it's looking less likely that campaign finance reform will be passed. Both the House and the Senate passed different bills, and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams called the bills "irreconcilable" (AP).

The bills appear to differ on the timeline for implementation (the House bill wants it sooner) and restrictions for lobbyists, contractors and PACs (the House bill has more). But apparently those differences are enough to scuttle campaign finance reform for this year. Even if the Senate version were passed, Gov. Rell has expressed displeasure with it and may not sign it. However, the House bill has problems of its own. Here's what CT News Junkie reported about that:

Many Democrats- both in the House and in the Senate- expressed concern today over the House bill. They believe taking away traditional funding sources like ad books in 2006, without implementing public financing until 2008, could leave them at a serious disadvantage against Republicans.
...
Another potential problem for the House version lies in the way it is financed. Because the plan would use surplus dollars, some members wondered whether the bill would need three-fifths of the chamber to sign off. If so, that would mean supporters would have to garner 91 votes instead of 76, a much more difficult task. (Levine)

So, if midnight comes and campaign finance reform turns into a pumpkin, who is to blame?

1. Governor Rell

Why did she wait until the last minute to signal her acceptance of public financing of campaigns? The more cynical-minded have been suggesting that Rell, long an opponent of public campaign funding, is hoping for the bill to fail so she can blame the Democrats. Indeed, a vigorous frowning and finger-shaking from the governor's office will doubtless be forthcoming should a bill not be adopted, and Rell will try to emerge as the champion of reform whose desires were thwarted by the Democrats. But if she had changed her mind three weeks ago, a compromise bill could have been worked out.

Her stubbornness isn't helping, either:

"The House version of the bill offers far more immediate, lasting and real reform for campaign finance than the Senate bill and will garner the governor's signature," said Lisa Moody, Rell's chief of staff. "The Senate bill simply puts off the real reform that the people of Connecticut need and deserve." (AP)

We should take any step that leads toward reform, governor. In this case, something is better than nothing, and the governor should be accepting of either proposal if she is serious about reform.

2. Democratic Leadership

Amann and Williams seemed absolutely paralyzed when Rell dropped her opposition to public funding, even though everyone who supported the idea was urging quick action. Why did this come on the last day of the session? What are their priorities?

I do have a little sympathy for the Democratic leaders, though. No matter what happens tonight, they're going to come out on the short end of this one. If the bill passes, the credit will go to Rell. If it doesn't pass, a lot of the blame will fall on Democrats.

To their credit, they appear to be trying. It would have been nice if they'd tried a little harder, talked to one another more often (say, perhaps, once) and acted a bit sooner.

Amann was annoyingly sanguine about the matter yesterday:

"I guess it would depend on how people waking up tomorrow and how they feel," Amann said. (AP)

Why can't it depend on you and Donald Williams getting together and crafting a compromise, Speaker? Why can't the Speaker and the President of the Senate control their membership enough to pass a compromise bill? Why can't they even get onto the same page?

Of course, even if a bill is passed, certain parts of it may be struck down as unconstitutional. It is, for example, probably not kosher to ban all political contributions for certain classes of people, like lobbyists and contractors. But that probably won't matter, because it's very unlikely at this point that a bill will be passed.

When midnight comes without campaign finance reform, the fur will fly and the fingers will point. Both the Democratic leaders and the governor will be half right about who is to blame.

Sources
"Dueling reform bills pass, compromise in doubt." Associated Press 8 June 2005.

Levine, Dan. "BREAKING NEWS: Rell Will Veto Senate Reform Bill." CT News Junkie 8 June 2005.

Pazniokas, Mark. "Competing Bills Pass." Hartford Courant 8 June 2005.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rell completely outplayed the dems on this one.

She never had any intention of pushing this legislation through, but probably caught wind that there would be divide among the senate and house leadership should she clear the way for passage.

The dems fell right into the trap, starting with Caruso's behavior earlier in the week. In the aftermath the Dems are sharply divided and now the Republicans have a decent 2006 campaign issue. The Dems could almost be considered two separate parties - house and senate.

Democratic leadership better get their act together for the next session, as this could be the first real tangible statewide contrast issue the Republicans have had in years.

Ebpie said...

Interesting how Rell has managed to both enrage the CT GOP, with things like taxes and spending, and provide it with it's best shot in years of making real gains. Hopefully the Republicans will be smart and carry the ball into 2006.

MikeCT said...

Anonymous,

Correct - Dems look foolish, ineffective, petty, and corrupt. Also manage to hand Rell what may be her best campaign issue on a platter and to blunt any criticism of her on ethics issue and ties to Rowland. (Rell's future predicted line: "I tried to get ethics reform, made major concessions to the Democrats and still they refused and couldn't stop bickering among themselves. We need Republicans to get our house in order.")

Late night word from a legislator tonight - the bill is dead, but some will push for a special session.

just visiting said...

The blame lies with the Speaker of the House, who never should have appointed Caruso to the GAE Chair. Obviously there is no discipline in the caucus.

Caruso is another hack who has spent too long in the Legislature, and out to be forced out to find a job. The Democrats had meaningful reform and the votes to pass it, and Caruso blew it.

Why? - he wants to be Mayor of Bridgeport, and is trying to manufacture for himself the image of a reformer. Caruso got greedy here, which people who know him say is no surprise. Thanks to his personal amibition and political scheming, Connecticut lost the opportunity to break ground on this important issue.

As to Governor Rell, her gambit was completely transparent, and it worked.