The General Administration and Elections Committee on Friday grudgingly forwarded to the state Senate a bill that would reduce or diminish the clout of third parties.
The bill proposed by Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, bans cross-endorsements of candidates by third parties, like the Working Families Party or the Independent Party.
These third parties often cross-endorse Democrats and Republicans and rarely run their own candidates for office to avoid becoming a spoiler. But Williams argues that seeing a candidate’s name multiple times on the ballot confuses voters and could give Super PACs an opportunity to find a way onto the ballot.
Williams said he’s not looking to get rid of third parties, but he doesn’t believe they should be allowed to cross endorse a candidate.
Many in his party disagree. Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, was the only Democrat to vote against the bill Friday, but many expressed concern.
Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, was of one of those lawmakers. Lesser said if a candidate is endorsed by one of the minor parties then it gives voters more information about that candidate.
“There are a growing number of people who feel their views aren’t adequately represented in a two-party system,” Lesser said.
In 2010, in his first election he was endorsed by the Democratic and Working Families Party and his opponent was endorsed by four parties. Lesser said none of the voters he spoke to were ever confused about how to vote for him.
“I think this is a solution in search of a problem,” Lesser said.
He said he voted for the bill Friday because he didn’t want to cut off debate on the issue.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, finds it odd that Democratic leadership is pushing for a bill that, if it was in effect in 2010, would have allowed Republicans to win the governor’s office. Instead, the Working Families Party helped give Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy enough votes to win.
The 2010 race for governor also demonstrated that a third party candidate can play the spoiler. That was the year that former Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, a Republican, ran only on the Independent Party line and polled 17,629 votes. Malloy beat Republican Tom Foley by 6,404 votes.
Democrats, many of whom were cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party, continue to hold majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, but it was the Independent Party in 2012 that received the most votes among the third parties. The Independent Party seems to favor Republican leaning candidates.
Sen. Anthony Musto, the Trumbull Democrat who co-chairs the GAE committee, said the bill is still being debated, but he’s not sure of the final outcome.
“Obviously the bill had some bipartisan support, and it had some bipartisan opposition so that’s a good sign,” Musto said.
He said there are about an equal amount of people on each side of the issue.
There are some in political circles who are upset that the politicians would use their elected office to change the electoral system.
Musto argues that Connecticut is just one of a handful of states that allow cross-endorsements of candidates, while there are 44 states that do not.
The bill passed 10-3 with Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, and Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, joining Sen. Meyer in voting against it.
The bill that didn’t get a vote Friday was the one pitched by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley.
Foley’s bill, which was offered up by Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, would have made it illegal for a lawmaker or a member of their immediate family to be paid more than $1,000 from an employer that benefits from state funding. That would include lobbying firms, contractors, and state employee unions.
Foley told the committee in March that it was absurd that someone whose employer is a union or a firm that lobbies at the Capitol can also serve as a lawmaker in the state’s part-time legislature. But the smackdown he received in return from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was harsh and swift.
Foley, who is looking at running for governor again in 2014, said he’s not surprised at the reaction since it may impact so many people, including House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, one of his potential Republican rivals in the race.
“Not surprised with the strong reaction to reform at today’s hearing, but I’m glad to have started the conversation,” Foley tweeted after the March 25 public hearing.
With no support for the proposal it was left off the agenda.