Today Bridgeport Democrat Ernest Newton resigned his state Senate seat under suspicion of corruption. It was also the same day a state Capitol working group was supposed to come up with a campaign finance reform consensus. But that group blew through its deadline without a finished product. They couldn’t even discuss the very disagreements that derailed reform in the first place.
When the state legislature failed to pass public financing of elections last June, the stumbling block took the form of a debate over just when the reforms would kick in. House Democrats, Governor M. Jodi Rell and Republicans from both chambers called for immediate bans on lobbyist and political action committee dollars. Senate Democrats wanted to wait until 2010. Neither bill passed both houses.In the aftermath, legislative leaders duly convened a working group, which diligently met throughout the summer. It was supposed to come up with a consensus that could actually make it into law.But when some legislators tried to discuss implementation dates Thursday- which is what caused so many headaches last June- state Sen. Donald DeFronzo (D-New Britain) said conversations about that topic would be held “on another level,” but not in the working group. DeFronzo’s response raised the ire of state Rep. Chris Caruso (D-Bridgeport) and state Sen. John McKinney (R-Southport). “I think it is incumbent on this working group to discuss that,” McKinney said.DeFronzo didn’t budge, and the as the meeting was about to adjourn, several members got up from the seats.“Before we go, is there a consensus we should bring this up at the next meeting?” Caruso asked.By then, half of the legislators were headed to the door, some smirking. Caruso got no response.Several legislators and their caucus leaders maintain hefty PAC’s, which they use to expand their membership and exert influence over colleagues. Many Democrats are hesitant to give up those pots of money, into which lobbyists often are expected to donate, not just to legislators’ specific campaign committees. Rell outmaneuvered Democrats last spring by making elimination of those PAC’s a necessary element of a reform package.Before the meeting, state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) said he has not been presented with a workable policy reason why all special interest money should be banned immediately.“In the absence of a policy rationale [to delay purging special interest money], it boils down to politics, self preservation and perpetuation of the status quo,” he said.While the working group met in the Legislative Office Building, Democratic House and Senate leadership met with Rell in the Capitol to discuss a possible special session, which many had originally thought would occur this week. However, House Speaker James Amann (D-Milford) said they only discussed potential issues for a special session- like eminent domain and campaign finance reform- not specific timing of a session.Perhaps this was the “other level” to which DeFronzo had been referring. Did the group discuss campaign finance reform details today?“It never even was brought up,” Amann said.