With the 2014 election in the rearview mirror, the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee in the coming session will look to address some of the issues raised during this year’s campaigns and at the polls.
The 2014 election was the first test of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws as they were modified by the legislature in 2013, when lawmakers reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by easing limitations on the amount of money political parties could raise and contribute to candidates using the public financing system.
Rep. Ed Jutila, one of the committee’s co-chairman, said he was wary of those changes to begin with.
“Now, looking back after an election cycle with those changes, I think we need to revisit them. I think we may have over-reacted,” he said.
The new rules allowed the state Democratic Party to spend $207,000 on senator-elect Ted Kennedy Jr.’s public-financed campaign.
Jutila said he is also interested in looking at another aspect of campaign finance law that allowed the party to spend money from its federal campaign account to pay for mailers in support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to get a court to stop Democrats from using the federal money, noting that state contractors donate to the party’s federal account. Democrats argued the mailer could be funded by the federal account because it contained voting instructions and a phone number for rides to a polling place. They were operating under an interpretation of the statutory language that allowed the use of federal account money for get-out-the-vote mailers.
“It’s something I want the committee to consider this session,” Jutila said. “Where it seems to be the intent of the federal law that those funds be used in a certain way to promote the candidacies of federal candidates or general get-out-the-vote efforts, there may be a need to clarify exactly what that means because it’s not clear to everyone and it’s not clear to me, to be honest.”
Jutila said the committee also will look at the state’s registrar of voters system in light of significant delays in opening several polling places in Hartford this year. The city of Hartford is investigating those Election Day issues and Jutila said it was important not to jump to conclusions before that work is concluded.
“What happened in Hartford may have more to do with neglect and incompetence then with our overall system of election registrars and their function,” he said. “But it’s become more and more clear that the time is coming to look at the whole system of how we register voters and manage elections.”
There are also areas where Jutila believes his committee is not likely take action this year.
For instance, many voters were put off when they received mailers from the Democratic State Central Committee and other organizations telling them how many times they had voted in the past several elections.
Whether someone voted is considered public information under the Freedom of Information Act. And although Jutila said he does not approve of the mailers, he said the information should stay public.
“I got a call from a constituent about it right away when that thing hit. I knew nothing about it and I was pretty upset about it,” he said. “I’d like our political parties to refrain from sending out mailers like that, but I’m not inclined to entertain further limitations on Freedom of Information.”
In that vein, Jutila said he believes it is unlikely this year will see a renewed debate over balancing open government with victim privacy. The legislature considered bills designed to balance those issues during the past two legislative session, largely as a result of the Sandy Hook shooting.
“We’ve had a lot of turmoil over that in the last year or so. I think neither side really wants to get into that again for fear that [legislation] goes the other way,” he said.