Six months after a federal judge found significant problems with the state’s public campaign finance program, legislators are now beginning the process of reforming it. WNPR’s Jeff Cohen reports.
In 2005, the state legislature passed the Citizens’ Election Program – a bill backers hoped would level the playing field by publicly financing elections. That, they hoped, would neutralize the power of private money in politics.
But last August, a federal judge interrupted the reform, saying that portions of the new program were unconstitutional and caused a special disadvantage for minor party candidates. Now, in the midst of the 2010 election season that sees millionaires in both parties taking leads in the gubernatorial race, people like Senator Gayle Slossberg want to fix the law in order to save it.
“This legislature believes that the law that we currently have in place is constitutional. However we do know that because of the lower court’s ruling and the fact that we are up on appeal now, it throws our system into question.”
On Monday, legislators held a public hearing on the program. One issue was how to fix it. Another was whether this is the time to fix it, given the pending legal appeal. That’s the question Slossberg put to Beth Rotman, the program's head.
"It's the commission's position that the most dangerous thing that this body can do is to sit and wait and to nothing until a decision comes from the second circuit."
But for people like Republican State Party Chairman Chris Healy, the most dangerous thing the legislature can do is to try to fix the law. He calls the program "taxpayer subsidized fraud" and says he'd rather see the program shrivel up and die in court.
“If you talk to people, real people, who are striving to make ends meet and you told them that their tax dollars were going for bumper stickers and lawn signs, they’d be a little bit upset by that.”
And even though Republican Gov. Jodi Rell supports the plan, Healy doesn't think it solves the problems she inherited from her predecessor.
“The issues with the Rowland administration had nothing to do with campaign contributions, it had to do with theft. Which we have laws for. This law is not going to keep anyone from trying to game the system.”
At least two campaign finance bills are now before the legislature.
For WNPR, I’m Jeff Cohen.