In addition to not fixing the state’s budget deficit Tuesday, the General Assembly also didn’t address Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposal to repair the state’s public campaign finance system.
But it was a hotly debated topic in the halls of the state Capitol as lawmakers prepared to take up revisions to the system as soon as next month.
As they passed each on the third floor of the Capitol, Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, who helped usher through the landmark legislation in 2005, bumped into Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, who recently said the program should be suspended for two years.
The two debated their positions in front of a handful of reporters.
Caruso believes the Citizens’ Election Program, which gives qualifying candidates matching state grants for their campaigns, could be modified to accommodate a federal judge’s objections to the program. Prague believes the program should be suspended as the state struggles to fund things such as the licensed practical nursing program and diapers for babies.
“The state desperately needs the money right now,” Prague said.
Caruso said he doesn’t have a problem taking some money from the approximately $40 million fund, but he’s opposed to “gutting the entire program.”
A federal judge concluded this summer that the program was unconstitutional because it treated third party candidates differently than major party candidates. U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill also concluded the candidates were being given too much money after he did his own calculations.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has appealed Underhill’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which has scheduled 15-minutes of oral argument on Jan. 13.
“What we don’t want to do at this juncture is anything that may jeopardize our case at the Second Circuit,” Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Tuesday. When asked about the delay in legislative action on the issue, Williams said, “what we’re really waiting for is to see what the court does.”
When the law was written Caruso said lawmakers were thinking about their ability to get re-elected and funding third party candidates scared them. Lawmakers worried giving money to third party candidate would jeopardize their seats, he said.
Although he’s no longer the chairman of the legislature’s General Administration and Elections Committee, Caruso said the legislature can fix the system by giving third party candidates the same amount of money as major party candidates and increasing the number of signatures they have to gather in order to qualify for the matching grants.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, who co-chairs the General Administration and Elections Committee, said Monday that “we’re working very hard to save the system.” She said the state has asked the court for an expedited decision and expects to receive one before the end of January or in early February.
Meanwhile, candidates vying for elected office in 2010 rallied behind the program Tuesday by signing a pledge to participate in the Citizens’ Election Program.
The pledge signed by at least six of the possible gubernatorial candidates says, “We cannot afford to wait for the outcome of the appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.”
Potential gubernatorial candidates like former Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said he thought lawmakers should take up the issue Tuesday. He said the pledge is important given the potentially large primary field in next year’s elections. And he doesn’t believe the current budget deficit should be a reason to scrap the entire system.
On the Democratic side there are at least six, possibly seven, candidates for governor and on the Republican side there are at least three and possibly more vying for the office.
Aside from Malloy, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, Sen. Gary LeBeau, former House Speaker James Amann, and Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi have signed the pledge.
Missing from the list of those that signed the pledge are Greenwich businessman Tom Foley on the Republican side and Ned Lamont, also of Greenwich, from the Democratic side. Foley has said he “probably won’t” participate in the program, while Lamont is limiting his fundraising to small dollar amounts and declining contributions from lobbyists and state contractors.
“Time is of the essence,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause, said in a press release Tuesday. “Candidates for office need to know that the program is in place.”