There he goes again. Heath W. Fahle, Policy Director of the Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank, is back to attacking the most comprehensive anti-corruption measure ever passed in Connecticut.
The Citizens’ Election Program is Connecticut’s landmark system of public financing for state elections, and has enjoyed resounding success in both the 2008 and 2010 elections. After the pay to play scandals of the Rowland years had earned our state the nickname “Corrupticut”, citizen groups including Common Cause in Connecticut, Connecticut Citizens Action Group, and the League of Women Voters successfully urged the Connecticut General Assembly to pass the Citizens’ Election Program and Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell signed it into law in 2005. In the program’s second run for General Assembly campaigns in 2010, a total of 74 percent of legislators and 100 percent of the Constitutional officers elected came to office participating in the program.
It is remarkable that the vast majority of the current sitting legislature can say they came to office free of special interest money.
In his CTNewsJunkie editorial, Mr. Fahle implies that the Connecticut law is in violation of the Constitution and that the current program is at risk of being affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of McComish v. Bennett, the court decision about Arizona’s campaign finance law. The issue at the heart of McComish v. Bennett is Arizona’s trigger funds provision, which provides additional funds to clean elections candidates who are being outspent by privately financed opponents. Connecticut law will not be affected by this ruling as Mr. Fahle claims. In fact, the Connecticut General Assembly acted swiftly to amend the Citizens’ Election Program in 2010 to eliminate the” trigger” funds provision, which the courts had ruled unconstitutional in July of 2010.
Because the court unexpectedly ruled in the middle of an election cycle, effectively changing the rules of the game in the middle of the election, the Connecticut General Assembly was forced to address the impact on Connecticut races resulting from the elimination of the “trigger” provision, and acted to increase the amount of the grants received by gubernatorial candidates.
Mr. Fahle claims that the legislature “circumvented the federal court’s ruling” by increasing the grant for only Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The legislature had historic data on the cost of races statewide and used that information to craft an appropriate fix to the law.
The fact is that when the legislature drafted this plan there was a Republican and a Democrat running for governor and they both would have been eligible for the increased general election grants if they had won their primary. It was the court’s late ruling that forced the legislature to act in the middle of the election. Had the General Assembly not intervened, Gov. Malloy would have had to run his campaign with significantly less money than had been guaranteed by the CEP.
It is in Connecticut’s best interest to have a state government which is free from scandal – perceived and actual. The Citizens’ Election Program was passed in 2005 in order to provide the state with an electoral system that frees candidates from the improper influence of large private contributions and provides candidates relief from continually soliciting contributions from those who have an interest in legislation.
The Citizens Election Program increases participation, reduces candidate reliance on special interest money and promotes a vital governmental interest – combating perceived and actual corruption in our elections. While the Yankee Institute seems to prefer elections bought and paid for by special interests, the people of Connecticut want a government of, by and for the people, and that’s what we get with Citizens’ Elections.
Bilal Dabir Sekou, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Common Cause in Connecticut and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Hartford