The bill isn’t entirely written. The votes aren’t entirely committed. Yet Democratic legislative leadership today convened the press to announce a vote on campaign finance reform sometime this week.Andy Sauer, executive director of Connecticut Common Cause, faces the cameras while (l-r) Lieutenant Gov. Kevin Sullivan, Amann and Williams look on. “Politics will not pass for reform and may very well kill any attempt for meaningful change,” Sauer said.
After spending the first weeks of June lobbing verbal bombs at each other- killing public financing of elections in the process- House Speaker James Amann (D-Milford) and Senate President Donald Williams (D-Brooklyn) appeared at a press conference today to say they had reached a “compromise.“The leaders declined to share drafts of a bill with reporters, saying they wanted to first show it to their caucuses. Among the major details they disclosed to the press:- A voluntary public financing system paid for with property escheats, ie. abandoned property that has reverted back to the state. After garnering enough small contributions to demonstrate real viability, participating candidates will be able to access public funds for their elections. For example, state Senate hopefuls can qualify for $85,000, which is lower than the $150,000 discussed in a legislative working group that met over the summer.- A total ban on contributions from lobbyists and contractors. The ban would apply to publicly financed candidates, as well as those who raise money the old fashioned way, and PAC’s. This is one of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s top priorities, though it will likely face a legal challenge on free speech grounds. – Contribution limits go up for non-publicly financed candidates. Currently, a gubernatorial candidate can accept up to $2,500 from an individual. In the new system, a candidate for governor who decides to forgo public financing can accept $3,500 from an individual. – New rules for PAC’s. Anyone can still maintain a PAC, and under the new rules caucus leadership can maintain three. But while PAC’s can currently donate unlimited amounts to candidates, under the new rules they face limits on what they can give. For example, they can only give $1,500 to state Senate candidates who are not publicly financed. Some campaign finance advocates acknowledged that even under the new rules, a motivated contributor could still funnel money to a non-publicly financed candidate. But the system will provide matching funds for the publicly financed candidate, so if that person faces a privately financed opponent who has raised more money than the block grant awarded by the state, the publicly financed candidate won’t be caught at a financial disadvantage, said state Rep. Tim O’Brien (D-New Britain), vice-chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.Since large amounts of money are spent in the last two weeks of campaigning, a privately financed candidate could conceivably dump large blocks of cash into their race just days before the election. How would the publicly financed opponent then receive their matching grants in time to stem the damage?“That’s the end game problem,” O’Brien acknowledged. “There will be mechanisms built in to make it smooth.“But O’Brien declined to speculate on how those mechanisms would work, demonstrating that some parts of the bill are still fluid.Democrats generally directed conciliatory tones toward the governor, and Rell indicated she was “gratified” to see a compromise had been reached.“Of course, they don’t yet have a bill and I must review the actual language to make certain that everything they say is in there, is actually in there,” Rell said in a written statement.