Here comes the wailing. Though Democratic candidates for office received tens of thousands of dollars worth of political support in the autumn of every even-numbered year in recent memory, state Sens. Donald Williams and Steve Cassano were shocked this week to find outside money coming into a state Senate race in the waning days of the campaign.
The boogeyman doesn’t quite look like Democrats dreamed he would. It turns out he is Thomas Peterffy, an elderly Hungarian-born immigrant who came to America, designed computer software, became a billionaire, and now cares about passing the opportunities he enjoyed onto future generations.
Nonetheless, the two senators decried the involvement of Mr. Peterffy’s group, Voters for Good Government, in the 4th Senate District race between Cassano and Republican Cheri Pelletier. Sen. Williams called Mr. Peterffy’s involvement a “political storm that has landed in our state.”
It was not long ago that liberals thought they had constructed a campaign finance utopia in Connecticut with the nation’s broadest publicly-funded campaign system, the Citizens’ Election Program (CEP). And for a while, it was utopian. Entrenched liberal incumbents didn’t need to work as hard as they once did, prospective challengers were legally barred from outraising or outspending them, and most importantly they continued to win. Everything was just swell.
Clouds appeared over the horizon, however, when it became apparent that a pair of federal court rulings would intrude on campaign finance Happytown. Decisions in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, Citizens United, and American Traditions Partnership v. Bullock meant that independent groups could say what they wanted in campaigns and the government couldn’t prevent it.
And now comes the “storm,” apparently, in the form of a $40,000 television advertisement aimed at eroding political support for Mr. Cassano, a freshman senator. Like many liberals out on the stump these days, Cassano is talking a good game on job creation and economic growth but he voted for the Malloy tax hikes, the paid sick leave mandate, and the rest a policy agenda that stifles growth. Being held accountable for his votes on television must seem quite unfair indeed.
Conservative candidates routinely bludgeoned by union-infused incumbents are amused. Senate Republican leader John McKinney summed up such sentiments by noting, “Democrats have been benefiting from independent expenditures from labor for years. Now that there are other independent expenditures in play that can match or maybe exceed union expenditures, now they’re expressing concern.”
If the situation wanted for more irony, it can be found in the words of two gentlemen who spearheaded the court case that changed the financial landscape, David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics and Ed Crane of the Cato Institute. Earlier this year they wrote that SuperPACs were less preferable than the alternative: contributing directly to candidates.
They raise a key point: would it not be better if criticisms of Sen. Cassano’s record came from Cheri Pelletier rather than Voters for Good Government? The current rules prohibit Mr. Peterffy from donating the necessary sum to Pelletier, a candidate who will be judged by voters at the ballot box for her actions, but allow it for the latter, a group that will never appear on any ballot.
Rather than making the rules make sense again, it seems certain that liberals will learn the opposite lesson from 2012 and try to regulate Mr. Peterffy’s exercise of free speech out of existence. The fortnight before Election Day often seems like silliest time of a silly season and it is. But if you want real comedy, just wait for the legislative session.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com.