(Updated) Frustrated with the pace of the process, one veteran lawmaker and one freshman lawmaker called on their colleagues to act swiftly to fix the fledgling public campaign finance system.
At a Capitol press conference Tuesday, Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, one of the architects of the landmark 2006 legislation said his colleagues are dragging their feet on saving the public system because some lawmakers and lobbyists don’t want the clean elections program to survive.
“Some lawmakers would love to have this bill come crashing down and not happen,” Caruso said. “The time to act is now.”
The Citizens’ Election Program has been considered a national model for publicly funded elections. But the Green Party sued the state, claiming the law set an unconstitutionally high bar for third parties, and won. That decision has been appealed to the Second Circuit Court, which has yet to rule on the case.
Once the court does rule on the case, as the law currently stands, the legislature would have just seven days to fix it. Otherwise it reverts back to the old system where lobbyists and special interests were able to contribute money to campaigns. There are currently two bills making their way through the legislative process that would save the public program.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, who was one of the freshman lawmakers two years ago who benefited from the program, said “If we abandon this program, what we really abandon is the people we represent.”
He said saving this program is the most important thing the legislature can do because it decides who gets to come to the Capitol and represent the people.
Holder-Winfield agreed with Caruso that there’s no reason the legislature shouldn’t be taking immediate action.
Caruso said he thinks the bill to fix the Citizens’ Election Program will easily pass in the House. “I think the issue really lies in the Senate,” he said.
When the bill was put together in 2006 the Senate had responsibility of figuring out how minor parties would be treated. Now the bill suffers because of that provision, Caruso said. He said it’s the same folks in the Senate that created the provision, that are unwilling to step up and make changes to it.
He said the Senate was also responsible for the reversion clause, which gives the legislature seven days to come up with a fix if the court comes down with an adverse decision.
Caruso believes the House could comfortably pass the bill proposed by the Government Administrations and Elections Committee. He said the problem is with the Senate where it looks like they may need Republicans to vote for it.
Caruso estimated that there are five or six lawmakers working against the bill.
One of the lawmakers Caruso believes may be working against it is Sen. Gayle Slossberg, the Democrat from Milford, who helped write the legislation with Caruso back in 2006.
Slossberg is also one of the author’s of this year’s legislation to save the system.
“There’s the public face, then there’s the caucus face,” Caruso said. “All I can say is that if Senator Slossberg is in favor of this she should instruct her leadership to e-cert this bill along with the House leadership.”
Slossberg said she has asked her leadership to act quickly on an emergency certified bill.
“Unfortunately, Chris is out of touch and obviously feeling left out,” Slossberg said Tuesday. Caruso is no longer co-chairman of the Government Administrations and Elections Committee.
As for his comments Tuesday, Slossberg said “He missed the news.” She said the news is that Gov. M. Jodi Rell just proposed taking $12 million out of the Citizens’ Election Program.
“It can be law at the end of the day, but if there’s no money for the grants then the program is not relevant,” Slossberg said. She said taking $12 million out of the estimated $38 program will “cripple” it just in time for the first statewide election cycle.
Rell’s office sent out a statement Tuesday afternoon responding to her decision to take $12 million from the program in the deficit mitigation plan she released Monday evening.
“Even after the Governor’s deficit mitigation proposals there will be $41 million left in the Citizens’ Election Program – plenty of money to conduct elections in this economy. What is important now is for the Legislature to make the changes needed to ensure the CEP is there for candidates who intend to use it,” Rich Harris, the governor’s spokesman, said.