Connecticut has become the first state ever to adopt public financing of elections through the legislative process. Campaign finance reform moved to the governor’s desk after roughly 15 hours of combined debate in the state House and Senate. Both chambers passed the bill, with the 82-65 House vote coming at 2:44 a.m. Gov. M. Jodi Rell pledged to sign it. Supporters heralded these reforms as a historic step towards removing special interest money from the political process. Opponents called it all a sham.The Connecticut House of Representatives on the edge of history.Minutes before the start of debate, Senate President Donald Williams ventures to the House floor to talk strategy with House Majority Leader Chris Donovan.
The House vote had always been viewed as the tougher obstacle to passage. As the debate wore on past midnight, opponents ran a series of potentially fatal amendments. Had any of them passed, the bill would have been out of concurrence with the Senate, and the entire deal could have disintegrated.But none of the amendments garnered more than 69 votes (76 is the magic number for passage). In one particularly tense moment, state Rep. Paul Doyle (D-Wethersfield) stood against the bulk of his party and offered an amendment to strip public financing of elections from the reform package (click here to read the bill, and here for the legislative summary). His amendment only attracted 66 votes, however. State Rep. Paul Doyle, defeated Democrat.Critics of the bill decried its contents on a number of fronts, from its reliance on taxpayer funds for political campaigns, to loopholes permitting the continued existence of so-called leadership PACs. These reserves of cash, maintained by legislative leaders, will still be able to be used to conduct polling and other services for favored candidates.“That’s not reform. That’s fraud,” said House Minority Leader Robert Ward (R-North Branford). While state Rep. Chris Caruso (D-Bridgeport) agreed this was a loophole, the Government Administration and Elections Committee co-chairman also argued that the “stars were aligned” with for passing the bill, and it should not be a reason to vote no. This was an about-face from Tuesday, when Caruso publicly slammed the bill and House leadership had to make contingency plans for GAE Committee vice-chairman Tim O’Brien (D-New Britain) to bring the bill on the floor. By Wednesday, though, Caruso was back on board.In the end, just four House Republicans voted for the reform package, and 17 Democrats opposed it.House Minority Leader Bob Ward: “This is a historic grant of power to a small amount of people to dole out money in an unlimited way.”Several speakers raised the probability of modifying different parts of the legislation during the regular session set to begin in February. “We know there’s going to be rhetoric,” said House Speaker James Amann (D-Milford). “But the governor called it what we believe it is. It is historic.“Before exiting the House chamber, Elections Enforcement Commission executive director Jeffrey Garfield surveyed the scene after the bill passed. “Pretty amazing. Pretty amazing,” he said. “We’ll tweak it.”