The state Senate's top Democrat, Donald Williams, insisted during the debate that changes had to happen or that horrible money from outsider groups would ruin Connecticut. The changes Democrats wanted, he said, are "the least we can do to fight for our democracy against a tidal wave of special interest money."
The Democrats' solution was to let state parties raise unlimited amounts of money and then spend as much as they wanted on any state race. And those party money gurus will now be able to take those contributions in bigger chunks.
One of those deep-pocket types, like someone with a sweet bank account who might figure it would be good business to have some friends in politics, can now give a total of $10,000 to a state party. Of course, that same person could probably give more money to some other political action committee, which might for some reason feel compelled to make another contribution to that same state party fund.
Dunson also fears the money "will be harder to track." Her reading of the bill is that only people who donate more than $5,000 to one of these party funds would have to be identified. Which means you could chip in $4,999 and stay anonymous.
One of the Democrats' most inspired revisions, according to Dunson, is the removal of prison penalties for scumbags who engage in serious violations of campaign finance laws.
The new legislation, she points out, calls for a maximum penalty of $25,000 for violation of the law. And that's pocket change in these days when billionaires and corporations and unions and special interest groups are allowed to spend millions on their political influence operations.
DeRosa and other minor party folks have always been critical of Connecticut's public financing system because they argue it favors major party incumbents over all challengers. Now, he warns, things will be even worse, with outside groups throwing money in and state parties trying to respond with more money.
"If you're going to have matching [campaign spending] warfare, you're going to price these campaigns into the stratosphere," according to DeRosa. "It's like they want unlimited amounts of money to be spent on campaigns to lock out all competition."
Cafero has a similar opinion. "We went from an incumbent protection system [under the old public-financing rules] to almost an incumbent guaranty," he says.
Democrat Roy Occhiogrosso has a different take. He was Malloy's top campaign guy in the 2010 race for governor, and served as Malloy's chief political advisor for the first years of his administration.
"I don't think the system is collapsing," Occhiogrosso says. "The system is responding to things outside its control... trying to maintain something like a level playing field."
"Consider the influence outside money is having on the process… Folks had to do something," he adds.
While he admits Malloy won in 2010 even though he was outspent, and that McMahon's obscenely huge self-funded campaigns were flops, Occhiogrosso warns that big outside money can turn elections upside-down.
"You can't ignore the reality of Citizens United," he insists. "It's let loose an enormous sum of outside money that can easily have an impact on the outcome of elections… The changes made this year are a reflection of that reality."
Occhiogrosso says he fully expects Malloy to seek a second term next year, and that it's likely there will be "outside groups on both sides" spending money for and against candidates in that election.
Those sorts of Democratic assurances don't do much for Dunson and the League of Women Voters. "In a nutshell, we're appalled," she says. "It's incomprehensible that the legislature would move in this direction."
The League is trying to generate a groundswell of support for trying to change Malloy's mind and getting him to veto the bill that he's already come out to support. Their chances appear thin — real thin.
Which leads to the question of whether it's still worth it for Connecticut taxpayers to keep on spending tens of millions of dollars on a system that appears to be back in deep corruption mode.
"The League is asking itself that same question," says Dunson, "and the answer is still out."