Last Friday, I attended the funeral of a much-loved relative, a brilliant man who had a long, successful career as an international tax partner at a Big Four accounting firm. One thing that struck me while listening to a succession of moving eulogies, particularly as a political writer living in “Corrupticut,” was the number of times people used the word “integrity” in describing him.
Sadly, integrity is a trait that’s increasingly rare in politics. In fact, in the last 24 months, I’ve begun to despair that we will ever shed our state’s reputation for an ingrained culture of political malfeasance.
Integrity isn’t a partisan issue — or at least it shouldn’t be. I’m sick of hearing political figures decry corruption in the other party, while remaining silent about unethical folks in their own.
Even after former Gov. John Rowland resigned in disgrace in 2004 and later served prison time for accepting $107,000 worth of gifts and vacations from state contractors, he was enabled by his political colleagues. Upon his release from prison he was offered a $95,000-a-year job by then-Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura, whom he had helped get elected in 2001. Rowland’s more recent employer, WTIC, further enabled his dubious politicking — his conviction on all counts at his second campaign finance trial a few weeks ago makes one question the station’s journalistic ethics as well.
But lest you think I’m only picking on Republicans, the Democrats are enablers of questionable ethics, too. After Rowland’s 2004 resignation, Democrats in the legislature passed stricter pay-to-play laws in 2005.
Yet now that there’s a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, it’s a different story. Connecticut Democrats are working hard to weaken the very reforms they legislated, to the point that the party sent out a mailer paid for from its federal account, without waiting for a ruling from the Federal Election Commission, despite having sought the FEC’s opinion beforehand.
As State Election Commission officials observed, the move is an attempt to “cynically circumvent our state’s carefully tailored pay-to-play state contractor provisions.”
Evan Preston, director of the Connecticut Public Research Interest Group, told the FEC last week: “Our reforms were intended to improve public faith in our political process by showing who is supporting candidates, to curb contributions that are, or could seem, corrupting, and to raise the voices of ordinary citizens so they are not marginalized by donors with significantly deeper pockets.”
I became an unaffiliated voter based on what I see as a bipartisan lack of ethics within the two major parties. But it’s not just at the state level. My local Greenwich Democrats played a big part in this, as most recently exemplified by their nomination of Marc Abrams as a candidate for state representative in the 149th District.
Greenwich DTC chair Frank Farricker, who was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to chair the State Lottery Commission, knew of the ongoing litigation regarding sexual harassment accusations filed in 2010 against Mr. Abrams, yet the Greenwich DTC nominated him anyway. Farricker described the allegations as “baseless.” In Mr. Abrams’ statement announcing his withdrawal from the race and his opponent’s “viciousness,” he said he will be exonerated in state court, but he never denies that he wrote the misogynist emails in question.
But before that — the same day the details of the sexual harassment case appeared on Kevin Rennie’s blog — New York Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s endorsement of Mr. Abrams appeared in the Greenwich Free Press, claiming: “I personally know Marc will be a powerful advocate for women’s rights.”
It’s not clear whether Rep. Maloney also thinks the allegations against Abrams are baseless. But an OpenSecrets.org search of campaign records shows donations to Rep. Maloney from both Marc Abrams and his brother, Russell Abrams, who also was named in the sexual harassment suit.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Russell Abrams has donated almost $17,000 to her campaign since 2004, plus an additional $10,000 donation to her Carolyn PAC. He also donated $10,000 to Connecticut’s Democratic Party. Marc Abrams has donated more than $5,000 to Rep. Maloney’s campaigns since 2008, and he has given more than $11,000 to the Connecticut Democratic Party. I emailed Rep. Maloney asking for comment, but did not receive one prior to publication.
But I’m not alone in my bipartisan disillusionment. A January 2014 Gallup poll showed 42 percent of Americans identified as independents, more than identified with either major political party, and 12 percentage points higher than a similar poll taken 10 years earlier.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian and writer whom I admire greatly, was a recent guest of the Connecticut Forum for a discussion called, “Debating Our Broken Political System.” She observed: “If I had to name one reason why it’s broken, it is power of money in the system today. It is the poison in the system . . . it is the amount of time that it takes our politicians to raise the funds, it’s the special interests that they are then beholden to, it’s the fact that they’re not doing the business of the country, and I blame everybody for it.”
If we want to restore faith in government, we need a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United and McCutcheon decisions.
As the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform wrote:
“If Americans do not trust that the system is on the level and think it has broken down, the United States will no longer be able to claim a government that rules with the consent of the governed.”
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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