Behind closed-doors Tuesday, lawmakers were crafting legislation that would help them funnel more money to political party committees, legislative leadership committees, and political action committees.
According to Rep. Ed Jutila, who co-chairs the General Administration and Elections Committee, the “essence” of the bill is an attempt to address the Citizens’ United decision that allowed unlimited amounts of money to be spent by Super PACs either for or against candidates — even if those candidates participated in the public campaign finance system. Close to $700,000 in independent expenditures from Super PACs was spent in the 2012 election cycle.
“It’s one way to try and even the playing field,” Jutila said Tuesday.
Jutila said the amount of money individuals can give to the candidates participating in the Citizens’ Election Program will not change under the omnibus campaign finance bill, but the amount of money individuals can give to the two major parties, leadership PACs, and town committees will increase under the proposal.
The proposal comes just one week after a federal corruption trial demonstrated exactly how much sway money has over Connecticut politics and policymaking. During that trial, a cooperating witness detailed how he was able to use the donations to former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s failed congressional campaign and three Republican leadership PACs controlled by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero in an effort to kill legislation detrimental to the interests of smoke shop owners.
“A local politician is a $100 whore, a state politician is a $1,000 whore, and a national politician is a $10,000 whore,” Harry “Ray” Soucy, the former correction officer and FBI informant, said according to evidence from federal prosecutors.
At the end of the trial, a jury found Donovan’s former finance director guilty on all three counts of federal campaign corruption charges, and seven others pleaded guilty in the scheme. No charges have yet been filed against Donovan, Cafero, or House Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz, each of whom are shown to have been informed of the scheme and failed to stop it or notify authorities.
The trial seemed to beg the question about whether Connecticut needs more money in politics.
“I don’t think we need any more money,” Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said Tuesday. “I think we need better candidates.”
He said the impetus for the legislation may have been to get rid of outside special interests, but the answer is not to allow the inside special interests to have more money. He said the issue of disclosure and how the money is reported is more important than increasing the amount.
Sen. Anthony Musto, who co-chairs the General Administration and Elections Committee, said it’s not a matter of more money in politics, but a matter of “legal money in politics.”
“We don’t need criminal money,” Musto said Tuesday. “There was nothing those people could not have done if they had done it legally . . . It wasn’t the money itself that was the problem, it was the way they did it.”
The donations made to the Donovan campaign and the Republican PAC were made in the names of straw donors, who were given money by the smoke shop owners to write the checks.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Connecticut’s Common Cause chapter, said she doesn’t think there needs to be more money in politics, but given the Citizens’ United decision, “we know there will be more money.”
What’s important now is how that money gets disclosed, Quickmire said. The bill was still being drafted so it was hard for Quickmire to say exactly what she thought about the disclosure requirements that may or may not be included.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill last year that would have increased the amount of disclosure being done by these Super PACs. Malloy felt the bill was unconstitutional because of how it defined the independent expenditures made by the Super PACs. In his veto message , he said the independent expenditure was defined too broadly and could apply to almost any communication attempting to influence a public official running for office within 90 days of an election.
This year’s bill, which is currently in a “state of flux” according to Musto, could be voted on by the House as early as today. But he said unequivocally that it does not increase the amount of money candidates receive if they opt to participate in the Citizens’ Election Program.
The bill is an aggregation of a number of the concepts from four pieces of legislation introduced earlier this year by the General Administration and Elections Committee.
One of those bills would increase the amount of money an individual could donate to a State Central Committee from $5,000 to $10,000. The amount a town committee or leadership committee could receive from an individual would go from $1,000 to $2,000, and all other PAC limits would increase from $750 to $1,000.
It would also allow State Central Committees for the Democratic and Republican Parties to sell ad books as another way to raise money. The ability to sell advertising space in booklets handed out at public events was removed from the parties in 2005 when the Citizens’ Election Program was created.
Another bill, which has been lumped into the campaign finance package, would lift a ban on donations from state contractors and would allow them to give up to $1,000 to their local town committee. The 2005 law prohibited anyone doing business with the state from donating money.
In addition, the bill would include Sen. President Donald Williams’ ban on cross-endorsements by third parties. It would also prohibit the use of certain words such as “Independent” from the names of political parties in the state.
“Independent is a word people confuse with unaffiliated,” Musto said.
The Independent Party, which cross-endorsed several Republican candidates, received more votes in the 2012 election than the Working Families Party, which tends to endorse Democratic candidates.