Thursday, September 22, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform: What We Might Get

Panel Endorses "Framework" for Legislation

The campaign finance reform working group has finally endorsed an outline for broad campaign finance reform legislation. However, major sticking points such as bans on lobbysists and contractors, were not resolved.

Here's the basics of the system endorsed by the committee:

Wednesday the working group unanimously recommended public financing of legislative races in 2008 and statewide races in 2010. The grants would vary by office:

# State House: $8,000 for primaries; $25,000 for general election.

# State Senate: $50,000, primaries; $150,000, general elections.

# Statewide offices other than governor: $375,000, primaries; $750,000 general election.

# Governor: $1.25 million, primaries; $3 million, general election.

To qualify, candidates would have to demonstrate a degree of public support by raising certain amounts, relying on small contributions. The qualifying levels would range from $5,000 for the House to $250,000 for governor. (Pazniokas)

While this still means that candidates have to raise money, it's better than the system currently in place. The problem with the system is that it's voluntary: wealthy candidates or candidates who know they can raise more than the system would give them could opt out. To keep pace, their opponents would opt out to raise more money, too--and we're back to square one.

As for the sticking points, it's the Democrats who are once again dragging their feet:

In a series of partisan votes, however, the group could not agree on the timing and extent of restricting or banning contributions from lobbyists, state contractors and political action committees. Republicans want immediate restrictions on those sources, while Democrats said the fund-raising rules should not change until after the 2006 election. (Pazniokas)

Obviously Democrats want to keep the current system going as long as they can, or for at least one more election cycle. There is little danger of Republicans capturing a majority in either chamber any time soon, but Democrats want to protect each and every one of their seats:

"PACs can give unlimited amounts of money ... and we are going to tell the people we have reformed the system?" asked Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield. "Give me a break."

But Democrats said they need to assure rank-and-file legislators, especially those in poorer districts, that they'll have a stream of cash for their campaigns until the public funding system is up and running - 2008 for legislative races and 2010 for statewide races.

"You can't expect a virtually 2-to-1 majority in both the House and the Senate to commit political suicide," said Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford. (AP)

By opposing campaign finance reform, however, Democrats are, if not committing political suicide, at least shooting themselves in the foot.

Compromises on these issues will probably be hammered out if a special session is called this fall, and we'll end up with a new campaign finance system that isn't perfect, but will be better than the system we have now. For legislative races, at least, the playing field will be somewhat more level (if not entirely so: incumbents will be able to raise the qualifying money much faster). Bans on lobbyist and contractor contributions will help ease corruption in that specific area, although it will doubtless crop up somewhere else in time.

A special session has yet to be called to deal with the matter.

"Working group finds some common ground in reform report." Associated Press 22 September, 2005.

Pazniokas, Mark. "Campaign Reform Edges Ahead; Details Unresolved." Hartford Courant 22 September, 2005.


Anonymous said...

Why is it the Democrats getting blamed for gumming up the works? What is so unreasonable about expecting public financing to be implemented at the same time as you ban PACs and other contributions. Get real. $250 donations don't grow on trees in Hartford or New Haven. The wealthy (mostly Republicans) would have a distinct advantage. Implement both at the same time and immediately and then see who complains.

Genghis Conn said...

Republicans depend on PACs, contractors and lobbyists just as much as Democrats do.

And no, $250 donations don't grow on trees in Hartford or New Haven, but Republicans aren't especially thick on the ground there, either.

CTObserver said...

Really, do you think ANY republican candidate would have any shot at taking out a city democratic incumbent? Given how both the republicans and democrats have gerrymandered the districts to produce "safe" seats, the only impact of campaign finance reform will be on the truly marginal seats. And those are few and far between. The biggest impact of campaign finance reform will be to push the politicos to further align their districts with their own incumbancy.

Genghis Conn said...


That's why campaign finance reform should go hand in hand with a sensible way of redistricting. The legislature should not be in charge of reapportionment: a neutral third party, like a panel of retired judges, should be.

CTObserver said...

Genghis, If you think campaign finance reform is tough sledding, give redistricting reform a try! Since redistricting only applies to the legislature, they will NEVER take it up. It is as DOA as they come!

Genghis Conn said...


You aren't kidding. But we can always hope, I suppose.

CTObserver said...


One trivia questions on re-districting: Who was the federal District Court judge that ordered re-districting to conform with Reynolds v. Sims ("one man, one vote" in the politically incorrect language of the time) that led to the 1965 Constitutional Convention?

Genghis Conn said...

Ugh, that one is nasty. You're referring to the Butterworth v. Dempsey case in 1964, which eventually found its way to the Supreme Court under the name Pinney v. Butterworth, right?

If I were at home and had my excellent books in front of me, I could most likely answer that. I know at least two or three sources that one is probably in.

It wasn't Baldwin, was it? He ended up as a judge, didn't he? Otherwise, I give. Who was it?

Genghis Conn said...

The only other thing I could come up with was a judge named Anderson. No first name given in the record.

Genghis Conn said...

All right, here's what I got from LexisNexis:

Before J. JOSEPH SMITH, Circuit Judge, and ANDERSON and TIMBERS, District Judges

That would be the three-man panel that ordered the legislature into special session to reapportion districts.

CTObserver said...

Maybe this will help, cite is 229 F. Supp. 754.

Genghis Conn said...

Yes, I found that. Are you referring to Judge Clark, who died during the proceedings?

CTObserver said...

Gengis, once again you tracked it down. I posted the cite before I saw you're earlier response.

Genghis Conn said...

That was a good one, very enjoyable.

If you haven't realized, I am physically unable to resist questions like that.

Anonymous said...

I am so disgusted by the Democrats and their big 'support' for campaign finance reform. They are hypocrites, at least the ones who voted against it are honest.

FrankS said...


Your point that "The problem with the system is that it's voluntary:" should note that it also implies consent of the competing candidates.

Malloy and Bysiewicz offered an example of this earlier this year in agreeing to return money in support of campaign finance, DeStefano choose not too. Without his consent, the disadvantages for the others are to great.

It also omits a time element, an incumbant like Rell need not begin a campaign as early, saving resources.

Genghis Conn said...

Shorter campaigns isn't a bad outcome, if indeed public financing leads there.

You're quite right that all candidates in a race must opt in to the system for it to work properly. One candidate opting out means that every other candidate will feel pressure to do the same, if only to keep competitive.

How do we entice candidates in to the system, then? Free media, maybe?

FrankS said...

Why not place time restricitions on the filing of campaigns, say 10 months before the election date?

Everyone would have and equal start and time, place and mannor restrictions on speech I believe are allowed for cause.

Gaius said...

What's up with the funding for primaries? I think that is going to make it expensive and silly. I can see funding the general election for the party-endorsed candidates. But any yahoo who can raise a few bucks will get $5,000 for a primary?

Chris MC said...

Having watched chunks of the working group on CT-N (and, BTW, how great it is to finally have CT-N), I don't think it is fair to lay the blame at the Democrats' feet.

The Republicans, starting with Governor Rell's death-bed conversion to the cause a coupla months ago (remember that?), have had the advantage in the public relations game, precisely because the Democrats want to get it done so badly. So they have positioned themselves rhetorically pretty much as they pleased, knowing that the Democrats who chair the GAE ain't giving up the ghost.

At the risk of sounding completely partisan (heh, heh) I had to accept Rep. Tim O'Brien's (D - New Britain)statement at the end of the festivities when he pointed out that the current proposal, even though it isn't going to happen as soon as we'd like, still promises to be the best legislation of its kind in the whole country, and that makes it worth doing. That's a common sense, results-oriented argument that most of us should find easy to digest.

From the beginning, and at the end of the day, it isn't the Republicans who are the champions of reform here.

Genghis Conn said...

Chris MC,

From what I remember, the Democrats had made little to no progress on campaign finance reform when Rell surprised them by indicating she'd accept public financing.

At that moment, the Democrats should have fallen all over themselves to get that bill done. They didn't. In fact, it was put off until the last two days of the session, with two competing bills passed in each chamber by the large Democratic majorities.

They're still dragging their feet. It seems counterintuitive, I know. The Republicans have historically opposed this (Rowland especially), and many Democrats have favored it. But as of right now, the Democrats, who want to protect their majorities, are the ones skipping out of meetings and being generally unwilling to move forward.

This is typically pragmatic Connecticut politics. Ideology doesn't enter into it.

Chris MC said...

I'm not relying on "intuition", I watched it closely at the time, GC. Both bills were introduced early in the session and a lot of effort went into them. Both had to go through four or five committees before they could come to the floor.

But don't take my word for it, check out SB 61.
...and here is the final vote in the chamber:
Notably, given their position on the working group, both McKinney and Rohraback voted against the Senate version.

Further, Rohraback and McKinney have repeatedly stated while on this working group that they have philosophical objections to public financing of elections. Ideology is a factor in some minds.

In my view, Governor Rell was directly responsible for the impasse between the house and the Senate at the 11th hour.

I believe that, in fact, that was the whole point. The train was leaving the station, and Rowland's Lieutenant needed to get on it.

Now she gets to say she is. Pretty successful manuever.

Anonymous said...

Still no one can answer why you can't start public financing and CFR at the same time. The truth is that the Rs are opposed to using general fund money for the process so a lag time is needed to build up money.

ctkeith said...

Chris mc,

You should talk to a Honest Dem Senator, if you can find one.

The biggest cheer of the session in the Senate caucus came when the leadership announced they came out of committee with 2 different bills.The Senate Dems killed public financing of elections and are doing everything in their power to make sure it doesn't get resurrected.

Chris Mc said...

Keith -

By honest, you must mean candid. Fair enough. But they did vote a bill out, and they did vote it out with the belief that it might be signed into law.

To mention two fellows that should pass muster with you, I'll mention your man Ed Meyer, and Don DeFronzo isn't doing a kabuki dance with this - or anything else as far as I've seen.

As far as the others go, we can find people on both sides of the aisle who voted against it, and a number on both sides who've said in public that no further restrictions should be made, that transparency is what we need. That goes for the House, too.

The fact remains that this wouldn't be happening without the staunch advocacy of DeFronzo and his GAE co-chair Caruso, et al on the Democratic side.

Can't name a Republican who is pushing this on their own, certainly not Rell.

FrankS said...

With the challenge to Vermont's law, now on the Supreme Court's Docket, no real change is likely.