HARTFORD, CT — With less than a week left in the campaign, House Democratic leadership said they want to change Connecticut’s election clean law in a way that would create a challenge to Citizens United. Republican legislative leaders called the move hypocritical and desperate.
House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said they will introduce legislation next year that will extend donor disclosure beyond the top five to all donors above a certain threshold. That threshold has yet to be determined.
They also want to re-establish a trigger that would allow a clean election candidate to receive additional state grant money if they were the target of an independent expenditure. The trigger provision for clean election candidates was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 when it found they violated the First Amendment. Connecticut had trigger provisions in its law back in 2010, but the law was rewritten a year later in order to comply with the court ruling.
Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said there will be lawyers skeptical of what they’re proposing, “but maybe we’ll give the Supreme Court another chance.”
A new Supreme Court Justice is expected to be nominated by the next president.
“We’re hoping another case goes before the Supreme Court and they get it right,” Aresimowicz said.
In the meantime, he said the state can strengthen its disclosure laws so the public is able to see who is donating to these special interests.
“The amount of money that’s pouring into the state of Connecticut is drowning out the voice of the voters,” Aresimowicz added.
So far there’s been about $1.38 million spent by outside independent expenditure groups. That’s less than the $11.4 million spent on clean election grants, but more than the $712,000 in organizational expenditures reported so far by parties and leadership PACs.
He said they want to “reset this election” and start talking about the issues the voters want to talk about.
But Republican lawmakers said Democrats are grasping at straws because they don’t like where this election is headed.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said her colleagues on the other side of the aisle are “feeling panicked” because, depending on how long they’ve been in office, they are going to have to answer for at least one of the two largest tax hikes in the state’s history. She said they are also going to have to defend the policies of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not on the ballot.
Klarides said elections are about asking voters to re-elect you and explaining your record. It’s not about what they are going to do in the future, she said.
“They have been running away not only from their governor … but they are also misleading the public and running away from their own record,” Klarides said.
She said Aresimowicz used a photo of her on a mailer paid for by his campaign to promote his bipartisanship. The headline across the front of the mailer says “Working Across Party Lines” and it features a photo of Aresimowicz and Klarides testifying together on legislation that encourages manufacturing. She said on the other side of the mailer is a photo of a business tour and a quote from a Republican legislator.
“Is that somebody who is running on their record? “ Klarides said. “No, what they’re doing is running on our record.”
She said Democratic lawmakers are afraid of their own record.
In 2014, Democrats lost 10 seats in the House. They currently hold an 87-64 majority over Republicans and are hoping to pick up more seats next Tuesday.
As for campaign finance reform, Klarides said she is in favor of more transparency. But if the Democrats are truly in favor of reform then they should agree to get rid of the PACs for all individual members. She said if the union PAC ad against Republican Dr. William A. Petit hadn’t backfired in October, then campaign finance reform wouldn’t be an issue for the Democratic Party.
She said there’s a federal grand jury looking into the Democratic Party’s fundraising in 2014, because all they wanted to do since implementing the clean election system in 2005 is change it.
“If Rep. Aresimowicz were serious about keeping elections clean, why are we all of sudden hearing these concerns now just days before an election?” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said in a statement. “The Democratic Party has had unfettered control of the state for the past six years. Yet in that time they have only weakened the state’s clean election system, and rejected Republicans’ attempts to implement realistic changes to keep elections clean.”