Republican state senators convened a press conference today and demanded legislation to close a loophole in Connecticut’s new campaign finance reform law. The loophole allows leadership PAC’s to make unlimited in-kind contributions to so-called clean candidates. Democrats countered that if the GOP had brought more votes to the bill last fall, it may have passed without the exemption in the first place. Republican Senator Andrew Roraback makes a point, as his colleagues John McKinney and John Kissel (right) listen.
“We’re here today because when the bill was debated, there was widespread acknowledgment that it had serious flaws that would need to be addressed, and we’re calling on all the members of the General Assembly to keep the promise to make this reform real,” said state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen). “Let’s make it real.” The campaign finance law allows legislative leaders- via pots of money called “caucus” or “leadership” PAC’s- to make large media buys or polling expenditures on behalf of a candidate taking public money from the clean election fund. Those PACs aren’t allowed to take contributions from registered lobbyists, but Republicans charge that special interest money will still flow into them through other means. Thus they propsed limiting such PAC expenditures to $5,000, and whenever a check gets cut, the opposing candidate would get a matching amount. The Republicans also asked for language making it easier for third parties to access public financing. Politically, the Republicans clearly attempted to prod good government groups into taking a public stand against the Senate Democrats, the caucus that inserted the PAC language. Traditionally, groups like Connecticut Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizens Action Group have worked much more closely with Democrats than with the GOP- CCAG staff have managed multiple Democratic legislative campaigns. Representatives from these groups attended the Republican press conference, but did not appear in front of the cameras with them to discuss their bills.“We hope [the bills] will garner the support of all the good government organizations in Connecticut and that they’ll work as hard at closing the loophole as they did getting the bill passed,” Roraback said. Common Cause executive director Andy Sauer called the Republican proposals “interesting” but declined to endorse them, saying he had to speak to his “50 member coalition.” He did acknowledge that it was the Senate Democrats who inserted the PAC expenditure provisions into law.Would Sauer’s coalition pressure Senate Democrats into making these changes?“We’ve spoken to the senate president two or three weeks ago and he was very open to making any needed reforms or needed repairs to this legislation,” he said, referring to state Sen. Donald Williams (D-Danielson). “We pretty much agreed at that point that we would get back to him.“Senate Democrats issued a statement criticizing the Republicans for suggesting changes to a bill they had opposed last December. The statement said lobbyists are prohibited from donating to PACs, but it did not address the caucus’s role in allowing for unlimited PAC expenditures on behalf of a clean candidate.“Two-thirds of Senate Republicans opposed the historic Campaign Finance Reform Bill passed during the special session last fall,” Williams said in a written release. “During 2005, they opposed public financing, changed their minds and supported it, and then opposed it again. So it’s ironic that they now want to fix something most of them opposed.“Had Republicans supplied their votes last fall, perhaps the campaign finance bill would have had enough support last fall to pass without the leadership PAC loophole, said state Rep. Chris Caruso (D-Bridgeport), co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee. “If there’s sincere interest in trying to change the bill, then join the parade,” Caruso said. “Don’t worry about trying to get in front of it. Change means that on the final day when we vote, we’ve got to get more than four votes in the House and two or three votes in the Senate from the Republican Party.”