(Updated) Despite a veto threat from Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the Senate and House went forward Friday evening with revisions to the public campaign finance law, including a provision to increase gubernatorial grants from $3 million to $6 million and one which allows lobbyists to contribute again.
After more than three hours of debate the Senate voted 23 to 12 along party lines in favor of the revisions. Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury was absent, but many expressed confidence she would have voted in favor of the bill giving it a veto proof margin. The House joined the Senate in giving final passage to the bill by a vote of 75 to 45. Thirty one state representatives were absent.
Rell promised a swift and certain veto of the bill and the legislature will be in next week to attempt an override.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, co-chairwoman of the General Administration and Elections Committee, said if certain issues included in the bill aren’t addressed by Aug. 11 the “whole thing crumbles.”
“So by vetoing the bill she risks eliminating the entire program,” Slossberg said following the vote.
Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, said there were a number of members absent for the vote in the House, but he’s confident they can get the 101 votes necessary for an override if Rell vetoes it.
He pointed out that both House Speaker Chris Donovan and Senate President Donald Williams are Ned Lamont supporters so working to get the bill passed Friday was against their own self interests. He said Rell should look to them as an example before she considers a veto.
Shortly after the vote Rell sent out a statement promising a veto.
“They have taken a program that was intended to remove the taint of special interests and corruption from political campaigns and turned it into a welfare program for politicians. When the bill arrives on my desk, it is destined for a swift and certain veto,” Rell said.
The debate in the Senate Friday centered around the basic fairness of the revisions included in the bill. Democrats argued increasing the gubernatorial grants honored the spirit of the law and will help publicly funded candidates be competitive. Republicans said lawmakers should not be increasing campaign grants when the state is facing more than $3 billion deficits.
Slossberg said during the last three gubernatorial contests the average amount of money raised and spent by the successful candidate was on average about $6 million.
She said giving participating gubernatorial candidates $6 million will actually decrease the amount of money the state expects to spend during the 2010 election cycle. She said the supplemental and independent expenditure provisions struck down by the federal appeals court would have given candidates to access $9 million.
“If we don’t have a system with competitive grants, we might as well not have a program at all,” Slossberg said.
Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-East Haven, said he voted in favor of the public finance system, but can’t justify spending more money on campaigns at this time.
“We have to be fiscally responsible and it has to start now,” Fasano said.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis concluded the bill will have no fiscal impact on the $43 million Citizens’ Election Fund.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said he comes from a part of the state that’s included in the New York media market. He said four years ago people in Fairfield County probably thought Eliot Spitzer, New York’s former governor, was running for governor in Connecticut.
Three million dollars is insufficient to run a statewide campaign, McDonald said. It denies the candidate the ability to connect with voters and denies voters the chance to participate in democracy.
Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, said he doesn’t feel bad for candidates unable to buy advertisements in Fairfield County. Pointing to a front page article in the Waterbury Republican American, Kane said what he feels badly about is that food banks are facing increasing demands.
Kane proposed an amendment to transfer the money in the Citizens’ Election Fund to the Nutrition Assistance account in the Department of Social Services.
But even more disturbing for Republican lawmakers was a provision which gives lobbyists an opportunity to contribute again to campaigns. The court found the ban on lobbyist contributions and solicitations unconstitutional, but it didn‘t offer much guidance to lawmakers on how exactly to address the issue.
“We’re going to go beyond what the court said by letting the lobbyists get back in the game,“ Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney said.
The bill lawmakers passed Friday allows lobbyists to contribute up to $100 to candidates and have those contributions count as qualifying contributions for candidates participating in the public program.
It goes even further and lets lobbyists solicit money and bundle up to five contributions from certain individuals. Beginning on Jan. 1 it bans lobbyists from asking their clients to give contributions to specific candidates, but reserves their ability to bundle contributions from family and friends.
“If that was the reform you intended then I’m surprised,” McKinney said. He said by allowing the lobbyists to make qualifying contributions, which will help candidates meet a specific threshold and gain access to a larger public grant defeats the purpose of the clean elections bill.
“What we’ve done here by letting lobbyists back into the system chips away at what’s fair and equitable,” McKinney said pointing out that lobbyists tend to give to incumbents.
Brooks Campion, president of the Association of Connecticut Lobbyists, said the organization is pleased the legislation allows lobbyists to participate in the process, but is analyzing the bill now and expect to consult with its legal counsel about some of the provisions, specifically the ban on client solicitation.
It’s not clear if the client solicitation ban “would survive a legal challenge,” Slossberg said. It’s an attempt to “balance free speech and corrosive special interests.”
Proponents of campaign finance reform weren’t pleased with the decision to count lobbyist donations as qualifying contributions.
Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of state operations for Common Cause, said the court was silent on the issue because there was no legal challenge to it. She said allowing lobbyist contributions to count as qualifying donations goes against the intent of the legislation. She said it means lobbyists could get in the business of raising qualifying contributions for legislators.
“I don’t like letting lobbyists money in, but it’s the court decision and we’re expected to respond to it,“ Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, said. “We will still have the strongest campaign finance law in the United States.”