A guest post by Kim Hynes of Common Cause –GC
It’s good to be a politician in Connecticut. After all, elected officials get all kinds of perks: lavish dinners paid for by lobbyists, flights on corporate jets, free hot tubs, and allegedly, work on your kitchen counter and bathroom by a city contractor even if you haven’t secured funding or permits yet. But what? You say – this isn’t “Corrupticut” anymore! Governor Rowland went to jail and Connecticut has embarked on a new era of clean government! Well, apparently the Mayor of Hartford didn’t get that memo. Mayor Perez has been arrested this morning on charges of two counts of bribery, and one count each of fabricating evidence and the conspiracy to fabricate evidence, all having to do with a $20,000 home renovation performed by a city contractor in 2007.
To be fair, Mayor Perez has only been charged – not convicted, and we don’t know yet whether it will be determined that he has actually broken the law. However, there is an obvious appearance of impropriety here, which elected officials are supposed to avoid. It is disturbing that Mayor Perez hired a city contractor to work on his private residence, even if the work was properly paid for at fair market value. The courts and the city council will work out whether Mayor Perez needs to be punished for these things, but it is obvious that Connecticut is still in danger of retaining the “Corrupticut” moniker. The State Legislature, in response to issues with the Rowland administration, passed the Citizen’s Election Program. Part of the program included the ability for municipalities to participate in the program. The Hartford City Council would be wise to take this as an opportunity to look at public financing of Hartford’s municipal elections, not only to make sure that Hartford elects leaders without a taint of corruption, but also to help rehabilitate the image of the city.
One thing which is clear, is that Connecticut has come a long way in recent years in terms of ethics and clean government. This latest scandal should serve as a loud warning bell that if the citizens of Connecticut are to retain the hard built trust in state governance, the legislature and the Governor must protect the Citizens Election Program. The ethics and campaign finance laws passed in recent years has made Connecticut one of the leading states in the nation in clean government. Yet at every turn in the recent budget crisis, lawmakers and the Governor have attempted to raid the Citizens Election Program of funds needed for the 2010 election cycle. Most recently, the legislature voted to remove $7.5 million from the fund, leaving, by most estimates, barely enough for the coming statewide elections. It was terrific that our legislators refrained from taking the full $17.8 million recommended by Governor Rell, but they left the door wide open for removing more funds in the future. Funds which, if removed, will jeopardize the viability of the Citizens Election Program.
The deficit crisis is an incredibly serious problem. Steps need to be taken to try and mitigate this crisis, and lawmakers are working hard to make the right choices. However,the long term cost of corruption greatly exacerbates budget deficits. Now, more than ever we need to be working to reduce the costs of corruption by supporting the Citizen’s Election Program. The Citizens Election Fund, even in its entirety, is only a small drop in this gushing geyser of a deficit. However, its import to democracy and citizen engagement in Connecticut is far bigger than the amount in the fund. The end of corruption in Connecticut depends on the election of lawmakers who are beholden to the people of Connecticut, not to special interests, big business, and cronyism. The Citizens Election Program provides the path to a future of clean government in Connecticut, and that is priceless. Of Hot tubs and Kitchen Countertops