Nearly a month after the end of the legislative session, it’s still not clear whether the governor will sign a bill increasing transparency in the election process. However, proponents say the federal investigation that led to the arrest of Chris Donovan’s campaign finance director underscores the bill’s importance.
The legislation aims to shed light on the election process by requiring corporations to disclose their campaign activity. It’s a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that allowed corporations, unions, and special interest groups to funnel unlimited funds into political campaigns.
The bill passed on the last day of session despite concerns voiced by Andrew McDonald, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief legal counsel.
On May, McDonald said the governor had “significant concerns with it and he has not made any commitment about what he would do if it reached his desk in its current form.”
The legislation arrived on the governor’s desk late last week and Malloy’s office said he’s yet to come to a determination about the bill.
Proponents of the bill like Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of the Washington-based watchdog group Common Cause, say the bill is more important than ever following news last week that a federal undercover sting led the the arrest of Robert Braddock Jr., Donovan’s campaign finance director, who was charged with conspiring to conceal the identity of donors. Braddock was released on a $100,000 bond and his attorney has said he’s not guilty.
According to the arrest affidavit, Braddock helped arrange for $17,500 to be donated to the campaign from sources he believed were originally funded by investors in roll-your-own cigarette shops who were seeking to prevent the passage of a bill imposing new fees on the shops.
While the incident points to corruption in the state’s election system, Hobert Flynn said the bill on Malloy’s desk could help restore the public’s confidence in the system.
“We have a crisis of confidence here. It’s the perfect time to sign a disclosure bill, not veto one,” she said Monday. “This bill will shine a light on shadowy front groups who try to hide the true source of who pays for negative attack ads. The bill will also provide accountability and empower voters, shareholders, and the boards of entities who make political expenditures by requiring disclosure of attack ads.”
But Common Cause isn’t the only group to make the bill the focus of some post-session lobbying. The Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association sent a letter to Malloy last week urging him to veto the bill on the grounds that it would create an “onerous burden” for news media organizations seeking to host political debates.
Chris VanDeHoef, the newspaper association’s executive director, argued that the bill would place a monetary value on debates, defining them as independent expenditures and forcing the association to seek board approval to host a debate.
One of the contentious aspects of the bill is a requirement that companies spending money in elections disclose the votes of board members who approved the expenditures.
“In addition to the board’s approval, CDNA would then be required to disclose the votes of individual board members and ‘pertinent information’ that took place during the discussion of this expenditure; an onerous task for a small board like CDNA, a nearly impossible feat for a large corporation or media conglomerate,” VanDeHoef wrote.
However, Hobert Flynn said it’s unlikely election authorities would define a debate as an independent expenditure. But if there are concerns with the language of the bill, she said there’s time to address them.
Because the legislation took more than three weeks to get to the governor’s desk, his deadline to sign or veto the bill has been extended beyond the June 12 special legislative session. Hobert Flynn said the campaign disclosure bill shouldn’t be looked upon as an all-or-nothing proposal since lawmakers may get the opportunity to tailor the language during special session.
“If [Malloy] has concerns about the language or the intent of specific parts of the bill, he could easily work with House and Senate leaders to make some adjustment to the bill,” Hobert Flynn said.
But that may depend on whether legislative leaders decide to modify the resolution calling lawmakers into special session. The original resolution is narrowly defined to include only bills that are needed to implement the state budget. Malloy has said if the legislature intends to tackle any other issues next week, they would legally need to broaden their call to session.
It’s not clear whether they intend to do that. Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Sen. President Donald Williams, said Tuesday that House and Senate staff have been talking about what might be raised during special session but have not decided whether an amended resolution will be required.
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said it’s too soon to speculate what issues will be addressed during the special session. He reiterated the governor’s concerns regarding the narrow focus of the resolution.
“If the call is changed or they decide to add another special session, we are open to discussing other issues. But that hasn’t happened yet,” he said in a statement. “We are still reviewing the current version of the Campaign Finance bill.”