Of Hot tubs and Kitchen Countertops

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

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23 responses to “Of Hot tubs and Kitchen Countertops

  1. Can you please explain to me how the Rowland scandal would not have taken place had there been a Citizen’s Election Fund in place?

    Rowland broke existing law. And he got nailed for it. Subsequent passage of these “funds” which are barrels of taxpayer cash for buying campaign junk and airtime for political purposes doesn’t change the fact that criminals break the law. You see, that’s what makes them CRIMINALS… they break the laws you make.

    There are people losing their jobs right now. There are businesses failing, and families unable to make their mortgage. In the face of this, you expect to be able to make a case that while these folks struggle, they need to continue to pay for lawn signs, political mail, buttons and bumper stickers for politicians?

    With all due respect, you are totally out of touch with reality.

  2. I see three actions necessary for cleaning up CT:

    1) criminalize bad behavior (i.e. – contract reform)
    2) enable investigations to occur – (i.e. – subpoena power for state’s attorneys, easier to convene a grand jury)
    3) increase punishment – (i.e. – pension revocation)

    In recent years CT has taken action on 1 & 3 and done other stuff, such as campaign finance reform (imperfect, but progress made).

    But Hartford can make every change in the world to 1 & 3… because until someone is able to investigate the problems… you’ll continue seeing the Feds in places such as Shelton.

    I applaud Sen Slossberg and Rep Spallone for trying to make things happen. But look no further than the state Senate to see they continue to ignore ethically-impaired legislators.

  3. With all due respect, you are totally out of touch with reality.

    Headless; it goes w/out saying.
    Hynes is after all with Common Cause.

  4. 1) criminalize bad behavior (i.e. – contract reform)2) enable investigations to occur – (i.e. – subpoena power for state’s attorneys, easier to convene a grand jury)3) increase punishment – (i.e. – pension revocation)

    Call # 1 Treason (which betrayal of the public trust really is anyway)

    Skip #4 as there’s no sense in punishing widows and children.

  5. Oh….Skip number 3 as there’s no sense in punishing widows and children.

  6. details matter, but my point is that without #2, the crooks have less to fear.

    Chair Healy recently asked CSA Kane to investigate a state senator. But without subpoena power, what will be truly investigated? And if the investigation occurs, will that give it an air of legitimacy that is unwarranted?

  7. details matter, but my point is that without #2, the crooks have less to fear.

    2 makes sense; the last one doesn’t because we’ll wind up punishing the innocent thus creating more victims.
    No real sense in that.

  8. BruceDRubenstein9

    I agree with Kim’s public financed elections suggestioon and I have given the new haven public financed election material to the Hartford Charter Revision Commission for their deliberation…..it would remove some of the the “pay for play” business. It would not remove “venality” though….

  9. Common Cause’s problem is that they persist in claiming that public campaign financing reduces public corruption. They say things like, “One thing which is clear, is that Connecticut has come a long way in recent years in terms of ethics and clean government” and hope nobody asks them to provide evidence supporting that claim.

    There are strong arguments in favor of public financing as public policy. Stopping corruption is among the weakest of those arguments. Indeed, I suspect that even Common Cause might, deep down, believe this themselves. Check out their website and you’ll discover that they don’t really come out and say that they support public campaign financing in order to stop corruption. They talk more about public financing “giving citizens a greater voice in their government” than they do about corruption. And when they do talk about corruption, they say they are working to “Frame Clean Elections as the solution to the current climate of corruption. ” That suggests they view the connection between corruption and campaign finance as more of a marketing ploy than anything else.

    In fact, you need to go to an entirely different section of their website to find discussion of policy solutions to public corruption. There, you’ll find that they believe the way to fight corruption is with “mandatory disclosure of earmarks,” “more restrictions on gifts,” “an independent ethics office,” and “financial disclosure laws.”

    Common Cause will also say, “but wait, Connecticut’s campaign finance reform law prohibits lobbyists from making campaign contributions!” Then they will cross their fingers and hope nobody points out that trumpeting that provision of the law directly contradicts their argument that public financing stops corruption. If the problem was that lobbyists and contractors were corrupting the electoral process with big campaign contributions, and now they can’t make any campaign contributions whatsoever, then why exactly is it that we also need public financing?

    Don’t get me wrong, I support public campaign financing. I even support Common cause. But not because I believe public campaign financing solves the problem of corruption. What I do believe it does is make it easier for average citizens to mount credible campaigns for public office. Consider the current crop of freshmen legislators in Hartford. I suspect that, regardless of how well qualified they might otherwise be, without public financing many of those new legislators would never have been able to get nominated, much less raise the money necessary to run a credible general election campaign.

    Nothing about public campaign financing makes any of those freshmen less likely to turn out to be a crook.

  10. Prior to public financing we all see just who everyone was in bed with; now it’s a secret.

    MOST office holders have some root(*); local chamber of commerce, little league, even the Girl Scouts.
    Thus it was no surprise to see a former chamber officer support small business, or little league coach introduce an endless stream of youth orientated bills.

    Now it’s a crap shoot; whatever group gets their members to rally `round and get the 5000 or 15000 minimum, get’s that legislator for that term.

    It should be noted that unions are superb at such activities.

    It doesn’t appear any cleaner to me; quite the contrary.
    Instead of a legislator remaining true to their civic activity roots, now they’re up for bidding every term.

    * Those that have no prior civic resume should not be nominated by either party in most cases, as they tend to gravitate towards politics for their own self-gain not due to any sense of altruism.

  11. Campaign finance reform has zero to do with Rowland or Perez and their remodeling projects. It has to do with greedy crooks thinking they are entitled to get something out of their public service. One question I have for Hynes – why didn’t you mention Tom Gaffey, who used PAC funds for personal expenses and pocketed the money the state reimbursed him for? THAT is related to campaign finance, yet you and all of Common Cause remain silent. What a bunch of self-serving, hypocritical BS.

  12. Public financing will not end all corruption in government. There will always be corrupt individuals who seek and get elected to public office. However, what public financing of elections does do is hold elected officials accountable to voters. My view, and that of Common Cause, is that by making people more accountable, they will be less likely to be corrupt.

    There is a good discussion about corruption and publicly financed elections on TomPaine.com, and can be found here.

    It seems like most people on this thread are interested in reducing corruption in our state government, but disagree about the method. Does anyone have any other constructive ideas about reducing corruption?

  13. Does anyone have any other constructive ideas about reducing corruption?

    Yes, but it’s rather Draconian.

    Treat betrayal of the public trust (at any level from a zoning board member on the take, all the way up) as Treason – a capitol crime.

    Then follow through with it.

    Normally I’m opposed to the death penalty, but putting a few crooks in front of a firing squad every so often would undoubtedly have a real impact; pardon the pun.

  14. However, what public financing of elections does do is hold elected officials accountable to voters.

    Elected officials are always accountable to voters, even without public financing. Hartford’s, and New Haven’s, and Bridgeport’s, and Waterbury’s problem is that they vote these crooks into office knowing full well that they are crooked. Public financing does nothing to increase accountability.

  15. Elected officials are always accountable to voters, even without public financing. Hartford’s, and New Haven’s, and Bridgeport’s, and Waterbury’s problem is that they vote these crooks into office knowing full well that they are crooked. Public financing does nothing to increase accountability.

    NOBODY had a clue regarding Giordono.

    Only the Mona Lisa has a nicer frame than the one they put on Joey Santopietro.

    Otherwise, you’re correct.

  16. Kim,

    There is no way to fight corruption – it’s almost like waging a war on jealousy or, in some cases, a “War on Terror.” Passing tougher ethics laws are important obviously but they can only go so far. There will always be people who will abuse their office. After all, that has been happening throughout the history of the world.

    One thing, which is going to be unpopular here, that could help would be raising the salary for legislators and public officials. Connecticut currently has the lowest salary in the tri-state (NY legislators make $79,500, NJ $49,000). How else can we attract top-notch candidates unless the salary is competitive?

    I’m thinking about running for office but know that I have to wait until I’m done with law school so that I actually have a career I can rely on in addition to a legislative salary.

  17. Before the legislature increase its own salary, I suggest they stop wasting time on banning soda (a BOE issue) and naming the state cookie.

    And how much time is spent “allocating” the annual $36 million slush fund controlled by Donovan / Rell / Williams? As I recall, that was going to be one of Crusher’s job duties… determining which legislators get a portion of Donovan’s $12 million slush fund.

    They’re also busy figuring out which strawmen to use as cover to avoid investigating their own.

    And when a real issue comes up (mid year budget crunch), what do they do? They cross their fingers hoping that Obama will print enough money to cover the deficit and deliver it before the year is out.

  18. Collectively though, their misbehavior doesn’t end with wasting time, wasting money, and irresponsible public policy.

    They need to stop representing their caucuses. But with a rare exception (i.e. Joan Hartley) they’re all afraid of their caucus leader telling them they’ve been put on the naughty list and they’re going to lose their reserved parking space.

  19. One thing, which is going to be unpopular here, that could help would be raising the salary for legislators and public officials. Connecticut currently has the lowest salary in the tri-state (NY legislators make $79,500, NJ $49,000). How else can we attract top-notch candidates unless the salary is competitive?

    Sure, let’s give up entirely on a having a citizen government or maybe getting at least a few driven by altruism as opposed to those seeking a career feeding at the public trough.

    We do need however, a law banning lawyers from writing laws.

  20. Well, my friend, I guess I made the mistake of being here because if it was only about the money I suppose I ought to move to California because the starting legislative salary over there is $116,098…..

    Ban lawyers? Smart call….or not.

  21. As I watch how my three children (elementary school, middle school, and high school) are being taught in school, two things become clear:

    1) History/Social Studies – especially anything that happened in the last thirty years – is taught as a bland, values-neutral, almost random series of unrelated events. No lessons about people, motives, politics, or power. Do their teachers and the Texas-textbook-writers really believe that the ubiquitous “how a bill becomes law” chart has any relation to reality? No lobbyists? No special interests? No corruption?

    2) Critical thinking is heavily discouraged. Don’t question the books, the teachers, the CMTs. Don’t keep asking “why!” Don’t broach a strong opinion, or question conventional wisdom, or risk a risky idea.

    The end result is children growing into adults turning into voters who never had the chance to learn how to make informed, reasoned, smart political choices. Simply put: they vote stupid. They get their information from TV and (at best) the front page of one newspaper and from the Yahoo! News Headlines they glance at when they check their email. If they see a political ad enough times, they believe it. They vote the way their parents voted, or their neighbors, or they don’t vote at all.

    And they vote to re-elect a muddled, charming fool like George Bush. They vote to re-elect a corrupt egotist like John Rowland. They vote for image, for spin, for empty promises, for a slick debater.

    Money in politics has little to do with it. Corruption in politics has little to do with it. Between our schools and ourselves, we raise trend-following, gullible voters who will always be manipulated. Then we give them democracy, and this is the result.

  22. iBlog,

    “The end result is children growing into adults turning into voters who never had the chance to learn how to make informed, reasoned, smart political choices. Simply put: they vote stupid. ………..

    And they vote to re-elect a muddled, charming fool like George Bush. They vote to re-elect a corrupt egotist like John Rowland.”

    Iblog, PLEASE don’t rub our faces in your success…….. They vote to elect then re elect Democrats. Like Amann, Donovan, Gaffey, and our Congressional delagation (with the possible exception of Courtney). No matter how little they deliver. No matter how many times they double bill, or try to give six figure jobs to their fellow failures. Let’s all hope maybe some day all our children will grow up and learn to think for themselves.

  23. Walker in 06489

    CORRUPTION (aka fraud) Rumor has it that there is a “quiet” investigation going on in the sweet little town of Southington. May have something to to do with the delayed purchase of the infamous My Bar site on Center Street. Of the public officials that allowed (1) access to the town owned property by the potential buyer and (2) allowed the buyer to block off site access, (3)fill a 30 yard dumpster with debris from demolished walls (4)the major renovations of the property interior before the still delayed purchase and (5) without a single building permit issued or (6)any inspections as walls and plumbing and wiring were removed and replaced.

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