Legislature Seriously Considering Fixing Campaign Finance Law

Update: 11/25/2009: Rell Summons Lawmakers; Proposes Campaign Fix <CTNewsJunkie>

Rell’s proposal to the legislature amends the Citizens Election Program in accordance with the federal judge’s ruling. Rell’s proposal would eliminate additional qualifying requirements for minor-party and petitioning candidates, provide grants in the same amounts to all candidates, reduce the size of the grants, and delay the increase in the grant amounts until 2014.

Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, said he thinks the most prudent thing to do would be to eliminate the reversion clause or what many have referred to as the “time bomb,” which returns the fundraising system back to the way it was before 2005.

By eliminating the reversion clause it gives the legislature time to react properly to a decision by the Appeals Court, Spallone said. “I think its really important not to take guidance from one trial judge.”

Either the Second Circuit can reverse the lower court’s decision, uphold it, or reverse it in part or uphold it in part. By repealing simply the reversion clause it gives “us time to react properly,” Spallone said.

That being said he welcomed the governor’s interest in working together on the issue.

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Update: 10/22/2009 Government Elections and Administration Committee schedules forum.  <CTNewsJunkie> <Aldon Hynes>  I was there.  It seems the Legislature has three choices:

  1. Leave the law alone or make portions of the law severable.
  2. Change the law to improve 3rd-party/independent provisions  and perhaps other provisions
  3. Change the law to completely level the playing field and fix other portions to clearly meet all the Judge’s issues in the ruling.

We were also present at the forum. Going part way, option 2, risks not going far enough and complicates the legal challenges, providing evidence that the Legislature may believe the current law is unfair.  Going all the way would risks being able to restrict portions of the law in the future, and risks potential spending increases.  Doing nothing increases the risks that the 2010 election will be disrupted by a sudden stop to the law.  (Some candidates would presumably have public $ and would be then able to raise unlimited funds, while others would no longer be able to apply for and receive public funds).

Update: 10/12/2009: Government Elections and Administration Committee schedules forum.  CTNewsJunkie story: Legislative Forum on Campaign Finance Reform <read>

Update: 10/11/2009: An Op-Ed in the Courant, retired Superior Court Judge Robert Satter gives his opinion, Election Law Needs Change – Not Defense, <read>

Blumenthal argued that such criteria were necessary to save the state from paying campaign grants to small, splinter parties. Underhill refuted that concern by pointing to the experience of Maine and Arizona, which have public campaign finance laws with no additional qualifying criteria imposed on minor party candidates. Neither of those states have had an undue number of minor party candidates qualify for campaign funding.

Underhill noted that the bill Gov. M. Jodi Rell submitted to the legislature did not contain different criteria for minor and major party candidates. The judge implied in his opinion that such a change in the law would go a long way to making it constitutional.

Underhill’s opinion is factually and legally so sound that an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals appears fruitless. But the appeal itself casts the pall of legal uncertainty over state funding for campaigns in 2010, which for the first time will include paying for gubernatorial races.

I spent two weeks  in Judge Satter’s court about 30 years ago, fortunately as Jury Forman.  It was fascinating and informative, it gave me an appreciation of the Jury system.

Once again CTVotersCount.org has taken no position on the legality of the current law.  We focus on election integrity.   We have members on both sides.

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According to an AP Story in the News Times, Fed ruling puts Conn. candidates in limbo, <read>

“We really don’t have the luxury to wait around and see what happens in the courts,” said

Beth Rotman, director of the Citizens Election Program.

“My preference is that the legislature move quickly, expeditiously and fix the issue identified in a special session in the coming months,” she said.

House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, said lawmakers have been busy finishing the budget, but plan to seriously consider addressing the issue. He did not provide a time frame for possible legislative action..

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, who has formed an exploratory committee, said like the other candidates, he’s wondering what’s going to happen. Cafero said the General Assembly should have included a clause in the original bill, which Republicans suggested, that would have allowed the overall program to continue if a judge found particular sections unconstitutional.

Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, who is exploring a run for governor as a Democrat, said he expects his fellow legislators will fix the public financing law and somehow allow the program to continue. The question, he said, is how broadly they intend to intervene.

Earlier coverage: <here> <and here>

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