Lawmakers had intended to fast track a bill that would strengthen the state’s campaign finance laws through the House Saturday afternoon when proponents hit several roadblocks.
The bill would have done several things including boost public campaign funds for a gubernatorial candidate, require companies to receive pre-approval from their boards for political expenditures over $4,000, and identify individuals who give more than $1,000 to an entity for political purposes.
Democratic lawmakers expressed concern during a closed-door caucus about increasing the amount a gubernatorial candidate may receive in a general election under the state’s Citizens’ Election Program from $6 million to $9 million. The amount for a gubernatorial candidate in a primary would increase from $1.25 million to $2.5 million.
A handful of lawmakers said they would have concerns about increasing the grant amount around the same time they will be asked to do a budget mitigation plan and cut spending in the second year of the budget. One lawmaker said his colleagues were concerned they would have to explain the increase to constituents during an election year.
But the bill also delays the increase until 2018—four years after the next gubernatorial election.
“If the governor decides to run for reelection it would be better to have $9 million versus $6 million,” Roy Occhiogrosso, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said Saturday.
Occhiogrosso complained that the governor’s office was not involved in drafting the legislation.
In March, the Government Elections and Administrations Committee rejected the governor’s proposal to allow publicly financed candidates to raise unlimited funds if they have been outspent by an opponent. It was Malloy’s answer to Citizens United and the unlimited amount of money that could come to candidates not participating in the public campaign finance system.
Malloy, who was the first governor elected under the new public campaign finance laws, received a $6 million grant for his general election campaign after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision that would have allowed the state to issue supplemental funds triggered by the spending of an opponent.
In 2010, the legislature overrode former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto in order to give Malloy more money for his gubernatorial bid, but the honeymoon with the governor seems to have come to an end.
“We haven’t had any conversations with them today,“ House Speaker Chris Donovan said referring to the governor’s office. “We just didn’t have a chance to get together.”
He said the bill is “under discussion” and there’s still time to work something out before session ends midnight May 9.
But the clock is ticking and the issues are piling up.
The increase in gubernatorial grants is not the only problem with the bill, according to Occhiogrosso. There are several “disclosure and constitutional” problems too.
Rep. Russ Morin, who co-chairs the General Administration and Elections Committee, said parts of the bill people are suddenly upset about have been in the legislation since the beginning.
He said his door has always been open and if there were concerns he’s always happy to address them.
“People are complaining about disclosure because they don’t want to do it,” Morin said Saturday outside the caucus room.
He said following Citizens United there’s millions of dollars flowing into politics and people have a “right to an open process.” He said he wants to work with anyone who has concerns about the legislation.
Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of state operations for Common Cause, said this bill would make Connecticut’s clean elections laws, post-Citizens United the strongest in the nation.
She said requiring those giving money to political candidates is “not going to prohibit anyone’s speech in any way.”
She said this legislation makes sure there’s no way to hide or transfer money to shell corporation. In fact, a provision in the bill requires a board to vote 48-hours in advance of making an expenditure and requires it to be informed of the money’s specific use, including whether it may target or benefit a candidate.
But the American Civil Liberties Union and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association who were not happy with the disclosure requirements in the bill.
Joseph Brennan, senior vice president of public policy for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he’s concerned with the disclosure requirements because it would only impact Connecticut businesses and corporate boards can’t approve every expenditure.
“It was one of those things that was so bad that we thought it wasn’t going to happen,” Brennan said Saturday.
He said the board of any corporation or nonprofit doesn’t have the resources to approve every expenditure over $4,000 in a 48-hour time frame.
He said the intention of the legislation is to stop Super Pac money from coming into Connecticut, but if it’s raised elsewhere it can be spent in Connecticut without disclosure. He said it’s just going to drive more business out of the state.
As things began to unravel behind the scenes Saturday, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero was hanging out in his Capitol office waiting and watching as plans changed.
“I find it ironic that something that was initially passed to take money out of politics, to have ‘clean elections,’ to be immune from special interests, is a bill that has all three elements involved and is the reason it’s not being done right now,” Cafero said.