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.