(Updated) Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed changes the legislature made last week to the state’s clean elections law. A law which she championed back in 2005 before a federal appeals court ruled some parts of it were unconstitutional.
In Wallingford Monday for an unrelated event, she said she opposed the increase in public grants to gubernatorial candidates from $3 million to $6 million.
The federal appeals court found the trigger provisions, which allowed the publicly financed candidates to receive more funds based on the spending of a wealthy or self-funded candidate, were unconstitutional. Some lawmakers felt it was only fair to increase the amount of the gubernatorial grant from $3 million to $6 million. They said $6 million is the average amount spent by victorious gubernatorial candidates over the past three election cycles.
But Rell wasn’t buying the argument.
“It kind of reminds me of when my children were small and they used to say, ‘But all my friends do it, why can’t I.’ That‘s not a good answer,” Rell said. “What are they going to say in another month when I come back and ask for rescissions because we’re facing a budget deficit, again?”
“Just because the money’s there doesn’t mean we should spend it,” Rell said.
Lawmakers argued on Friday that the Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated there was $43 million set aside for the Citizens’ Election Fund at the beginning of the year. About $10.3 million has been paid out to campaigns with the bulk of it going to candidates involved in primaries.
Dan Malloy, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who would have benefited from the increased grant amount was quick to issue a statement on the veto.
“The bill contains no new spending, as the Governor very well knows,” Malloy said. “All it attempts to do is keep the playing field somewhat level between the very wealthy candidates who can spend whatever they want to spend… and the rest of us. I hope the Legislature will take into account that for those of us who’ve worked hard and played by the rules, this bill is important.”
Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, who is participating in the public system on the Republican side, said Friday that he thinks it’s strange Rell would want to veto a piece of legislation that is part of her legacy. He said the money was budgeted and he thinks whether it’s him or Malloy challenging Ned Lamont or Tom Foley, the additional $3 million grant would have been triggered on day one.
“I don’t believe it’s going to cost anymore money,” Fedele said.
But Rell objected to more than just the spending.
Rell said she also thinks it’s bad policy to allow lobbyists back into the system. The federal appeals court said the state couldn‘t keep lobbyists from contributing, but it didn‘t spell out exactly how the state should handle their contributions.
On Friday the legislature decided to allow them to make qualifying contributions of up to $100 and bundle up to five of those contributions, but as of Jan. 1 it prohibits solicitation of clients.
“This tinkering around the edges is poor policy right now,” Rell said. “If the legislature wants to do it next year they should hold public hearings on it.”
“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,” Rell said in her veto message.
Asked if her veto would stand, Rell said she wasn’t sure.
It almost passed by a veto proof margin in the Senate, but fell far short of one in the House. There were 31 lawmakers absent in the House and Rell said she wasn’t sure if their presence would have made a difference. The House needs 101 votes to override a veto.
House Speaker Chris Donovan said he had his staff members working the phones to see if the Democratic caucus can support an override and how quickly they can return.
He said he was “sorry the governor’s last veto message came across as negative campaigning piece,” but “passing the bill with the changes is the right thing to do.”
A Ned Lamont supporter, Donovan, said, “we believe in the policy, not the politics.”
“Adjusting the grants was the fair and right thing to do,” said Donovan. “Those who chose to participate in the program should not be at a disadvantage.”
He objected to Rell’s criticism about the budget implications and said the attorney general’s office warned lawmakers about future legal action should it seek to continue to leave out the lobbyists. The opinion from the attorney general’s office was verbal.