For the second time in two weeks the Democrat-controlled House passed a campaign finance fix that will give its Democratic gubernatorial nominee $6 million in campaign funds.
It was a veto showdown Friday and 15 of the 18 lawmakers who had voted against the measure two weeks ago voted in favor of it Friday morning.
In the end, only one Democrat – Rep. Shawn Johnston of North Grosvenordale – voted against it.
Democratic state reprentatives who switched their vote included the following: Jason Bartlett of Bethel, Juan Candelaria of New Haven, Matthew Conway of Suffield, Michelle Cook of Torrington, Kim Fawcett of Fairfield, Linda Gentile of Ansonia, Karen Jarmoc of Enfield, Chris Lyddy of Newtown, Corky Mazurek of Wolcott, Steven Mikutel of Griswold, Frank N. Nicastro of Bristol, Kathy Tallarita of Enfield, Chris Wright of Bristol, Paul Davis of Orange, and Buddy Altobello of Meriden.
Reps. Minnie Gonzalez of Hartford and Linda Schofield of Simsbury were absent. Schofield said Thursday she was going away on vacation. Gonzalez could not be reached for comment.
The bill, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed two weeks ago, will give Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Malloy a shot at competing against self-financing millionaire Republican Tom Foley, but lawmakers insist that wasn’t the reason they changed their vote.
“I truly believe in the system,” Gentile said. “We want working people, farmers, women, and others to be able to run for office.
Proponents of the bill argued that if the matching funds were still part of the program a gubernatorial candidate could receive up to $9 million.
Republicans argued that the Democrats were motivated by politics rather than policy and shouldn’t be spending money when the state is facing a $3.4 billion deficit.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk urged Democratic lawmakers to sustain Rell’s veto and vote against the bill.
“A portion of this bill affects one man,” Cafero said. “I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when this body passed a bill for one man.” He even suggested changing the title of the bill to “An Act Concerning Dan Malloy.”
Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, who was walking around and rattling a tin cup with a picture of Malloy above the saying “dirty money,” said it‘s a handout of taxpayer dollars.
“The Democrats in the legislature at a time of great public need decided to spend an additional $3 million of our tax money to subsidize Dan Malloy’s campaign for governor,” Healy said.
But Democrats, especially those who changed their votes, argued that time to save the Citizens’ Election Program was running out. The severability clock was ticking and the legislature had less than 15 days to save the entire public campaign finance system.
They argued that if they failed to override the veto then there may not be enough time to hold another session to save the public finance system, which was partially dismantled by a federal appeals court in July.
But Healy made it clear he intends to make Malloy pay a price for accepting the public money.
“Taxpayers won’t have to pay for Tom Foley’s exercise of free speech,” Healy said following Friday’s vote.
“If Healy really feels so strongly about limiting the amount of money going into the Citizens’ Election Program, here’s an idea: if he can convince Tom Foley to abide by a $3 million spending limit in the general, I’m quite certain that I can get Dan Malloy to do the same,“ Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said Thursday. “We’ll wait for his answer.”
“Tom Foley and Chris Healy seem eager to drag Connecticut back to the old ways of doing things, when big-money ruled our elections,” DiNardo added.
Foley’s campaign manager Justin Clark, painted Friday’s vote as politics as usual in Hartford.
“Today the legislature arbitrarily handed out an additional $3 million dollars to Dan Malloy – on top of the $5.25 million dollars they have already given to him – in an attempt to buy this year’s gubernatorial election for their party,” said Clark. “Voters are concerned about this old school, machine-style politics being employed by the legislature and should be very concerned if Dan Malloy is the only person there to protect the people of Connecticut from it. ”
Rep. Chris Wright of Bristol, who switched his vote Friday, said he wasn’t happy about the legislature’s decision to double the amount a gubernatorial candidate receives, but it’s too late in the game. “What choice do we have,” Wright said.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, a supporter of the Malloy campaign, who was there to watch the House vote Friday said the $6 million is exactly what was contemplated when the original legislation passed. He said this money has always been set aside in the fund.
Rell, who had championed the original law, reflected on that fact the system has been used by Republicans and Democrats alike over the past two years.
“Today, however, the majority party has seized upon this moment to transform the CEP – a set of reforms that had been considered a national model – into a welfare program for politicians and a war chest for the impending, inevitable barrage of nasty, negative advertising and ‘robo-calls,” Rell said in a press release.
“At a time when Connecticut families continue to struggle to recover from a recession and the state faces the possibility of additional budget cuts to offset declining federal revenue, spending an additional $3 million on political campaigns is a difficult decision to defend, to say the least.”