Does the new campaign finance law signed into law last week mean our state has lost its resolve to put an end to "Corrupticut"? [In response to the Advocate's online story: "Did State Democrats Just Ruin Connecticut's Campaign-Financing System?"]
Back in 2005, Connecticut proudly passed one of the strongest campaign finance laws in the country, designed to reduce the influence of big money in elections and turn CT in a new direction, away from the scandal associated with the conviction and imprisonment of Governor Rowland. We banned lobbyist and state contractor campaign contributions, as well as payments in "ad books." We created the Citizens' Election Program, designed to reduce the influence of special interest money and level the playing field by allowing qualified candidates to run for office, supported by public financing for candidates who can raise a threshold amount of small contributions from their prospective constituents.
Five years later, our legislature responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision with strong attribution and disclaimer rules for political advertising — the "stand by your ad" rules — that specifically required tax-exempt organizations to disclose their top 5 donors in political advertising and other communications.
Now our legislators have taken a big step backwards on campaign finance and disclosure laws by passing, as an amendment debated in the middle of the night, Public Act 13-180. Candidates for state office now can obtain public funding through the Citizens' Election Program while simultaneously benefitting from thousands of dollars in special interest money raised by political parties for campaign purposes. Nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations — the "social welfare" groups responsible for an explosion in campaign spending across the country — can now contribute to unlimited "independent expenditures" for political advertising in connection with CT campaigns without revealing the names of their major donors.
Should tax-exempt groups — whether homegrown in CT or based elsewhere — be able to spend unlimited amounts in our state to influence our elections while concealing their major donors? The League of Women Voters of CT says NO. Disclosure helps our voters to evaluate the campaign messages they hear and to make informed decisions. Transparency is a choice we believe is in the public interest — and we are sorry to see the majority of CT legislators put their campaign interests before the public interest.
Cheryl Dunson, President
Christine S. Horrigan, Government Chair
League of Women Voters of Connecticut