REP. BARAM ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LEGISLATION
State Rep. David Baram praises wide-ranging legislation - perhaps the most comprehensive in more than a decade - that strengthens Connecticut's laws against domestic violence and enhances its assistance to victims.
Dave Baram in Action
LEGISLATURE SAVES ‘CITIZENS’ ELECTION PROGRAM’ AND REDUCES OVERALL POTENTIAL COST
Clean elections and a lower price tag. By overriding the governor’s veto of the campaign finance fix legislation, Democrats protected the integrity of our elections and reduced the cost of the program – by $2.3 million.
Connecticut’s landmark Citizens’ Election Program (CEP) – public financing of state elections – has proven successful in just the few short years it has been in operation. It removed special interest money from political campaigns, encouraged more candidates to throw their hats in the ring for every office and leveled the financial playing field for all office seekers.
Though last month’s federal appeals court ruling deemed a few aspects of the CEP unconstitutional, the state legislature has been quick to act to ensure that the mission and goals of public financing are not compromised as we head toward Election Day in November.
Legislation passed by the General Assembly, and ironically vetoed by public financing proponent Governor Rell, fixes the court’s concerns with just a few tweaks to the original campaign finance reform law. First off, our bill removed the so-called “sever ability” clause to ensure that the aspects of the program not ruled unconstitutional continue to have the force of law.
A major decision by the court eliminated “supplemental” grants for candidates participating in the CEP. These grants are allocated when a privately-financed opponent of a CEP candidate exceeds the established spending limits set up by the program.
For example, the initial grant for gubernatorial candidate A, who is participating in CEP, is $3 million. If a self-funded opponent candidate B decided to spend more, candidate A would be eligible for up to an additional $6 million depending on the total campaign expenditures of B. Without such supplemental grants, publicly financed candidate A is at a severe disadvantage to candidate B.
To help avoid this unfair mismatch and also adhere to the court’s decision, the legislature opted to increase the initial gubernatorial grant to $6 million and eliminate the supplemental grant as well as a matching grant for “independent” expenditures.
The program is funded by proceeds from the sale of unclaimed property – a self-sustaining non-tax revenue stream overseen by the state treasurer. Therefore, there is no additional cost to this approach – in fact it costs less than the original formula where candidates for governor could get $9 million ($3 million initially and up to an additional $6 million from a supplemental grant). It also is less than the projected spending from the fund before the court issued its ruling.
In addition, the court ruled that a total ban on lobbyist contributions to campaigns was unconstitutional based on the free speech principle of the First Amendment. In response, the legislature had to let lobbyist money back in the game, but we limited these donations to $100 per candidate. The current prohibition of lobbyist contributions during legislative sessions remains in effect.
Thankfully, the court upheld the ban on campaign contributions from state contractors. Unfortunately though, the court struck down the ban on contractors and lobbyists soliciting others for donations on behalf of candidates. These provisions are very complicated, and with Election Day less than three months away, the legislature decided to limit the solicitations as of January 1, so that this year’s elections could proceed without further litigation, and to prohibit the “bundling” of checks and lobbyist fundraisers immediately.
The CEP helps remove special interest money from campaigns and level the playing field for candidates – and it frees up those running for office to spend less time fundraising and more time talking to voters about the issues.
By overriding the Governor’s veto, the legislature has assured voters that special interest money effectively remains eliminated from the election campaign process and privately-financed candidates cannot simply buy their way into office. Increasing voter confidence in our representative democracy is an ongoing challenge, and the state’s Citizens’ Election Program is an important part of that equation.