Fix Public Financing Now

The Citizens’ Election Program, which I have always strongly supported, has been ruled unconstitutional.

This is an awful shame. That program was intended to accomplish a couple of goals: first, to remove a huge barrier to entry to running for public office; second, to remove some of the corrupting influence of large donors (it’s impossible to eradicate completely), third, to level the playing field between candidates, and lastly, to allow candidates to spend more time meeting voters instead of raising money. It was a success, as many candidates attested during the last cycle. A more accessible, fair and vibrant democracy is worth the price.

The complaints the judge made are valid, I think, and the law should be amended to make it possible for minor parties to have the same access to the ballot. Gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy said:

“I am a staunch supporter of public campaign financing. The most important aspect of any such law is that it is fair to all parties involved, creating a level playing field for elections. This ruling contends that the law does not achieve that very simple goal. If that’s true, then the state needs to fix those problems so that the program achieves what our lawmakers intended when they created it. Hopefully we can do that in a timely fashion and the program will be stronger for having gone through the process.”

This is absolutely correct. Instead of giving up and abandoning a promising program, let’s fix the law and do public financing right.

The legislature should meet in special session before the end of 2009 to fix the law. It should be in place for the 2010 election cycle. If our leaders truly do support public financing, they should act quickly to protect it.

17 responses to “Fix Public Financing Now

  1. GC,

    You couldn’t be more off base. This program while well intended, was a colossal failure. As a treasurer for a state rep campaign, I frequently visited the SEC HQ and have never seen a less competent staff. Also, the program put my dollars to support candidates that I do not support INVOLUNTARILY. The national election fund is a voluntary program that I can choose or not choose to be a part of if I so wish. This state program was a joke and aside from the money to the candidates, wasted taxpayer money on staff and unnecessary employees.

  2. How do you fix taxpayer financed elections when a major portion of it is unconstitutional?

    Unscrewing the minor parties should be an easy fix, but the court found the matching funds provisions a violation of the First Amendment. Now, if a non-participating candidate spent more than the participating candidate, there could be no matching funds.

    Why would a competitive candidate ever consider public funds when his/her opponent could dramatically outspend them? The system would be just as useless as the Presidential system that every major candidate disregards.

    The program can’t be fixed. End it before we waste any more taxpayer dollars.

  3. Hey Genghis, you should note that bans on lobbyist and contractor contributions, and ad books, will remain.

  4. >>note that bans on lobbyist and contractor contributions, and ad books, will remain.

    Yup – no first amendment rights for those people.

  5. wtfdnucsailor

    I agree with GC that the public financing program was a playing field leveler. It was/is very frustrating for Town Committees to coordinate with candidate committees but that can be overcome. I urge the legislature to fix what the judge ruled unconstitutional in time to be effective for the 2010 elections.

  6. Bruce Rubenstein

    I agree with GC….fix the dam thing for it to be effective in 2010.

  7. One Democrat has had this right for a while now.

    Not a good time to spend 61 million dollars.

  8. The ban still exists on the “evildoers” of our democratic society, however, with the repeal goes the penalties for violation of the ban…so…what’s that tell you? Lobbyists coming back to buy off legislators! Phew – Good Times are here again!!

  9. famillionaire

    Also, the program put my dollars to support candidates that I do not support INVOLUNTARILY.

    I understand that folks use this argument often in this issue since it is clearly a lightening rod, but the fact is we all “INVOLUNTARILY” have our dollars committed to hundred of things we do not support on the local, state and federal levels. Obviously, we have all indirectly “supported” candidates we do not wish to, but what I support is giving everyone a fair chance to adequately make their case to the voters without relying on lobbyists, special intertests or the wealthy among us who can afford to give to political causes.
    So the argument just doesn’t hold that much weight with me.

  10. There seems to be some misunderstand about the really problematic portions of the law —- all of which should have been fixed before and could easily be fixed now.

    The argument that it is complex is absurd.

    The section of lobbyists can be fixed…

    While it is true that the number of names 3rd parties needed to qualify for funds was inappropriately high…the problem could have and should have been resolved and can be now.

    Least we forget, under the old system it was (1) hard to get on the ballot and then (2) impossible to get the funds to compete.

    In that sense the new system was much better. The number of names needed should have been lower and the Judge could have and should have sent the law back to the legislature to address that problem but to throw the whole law out means it now rests on the governor and legislature repair and re-adopt the finance law.

    I think the judge not only made it much, much, much less likely for a 3rd party to rise up and compete…he undermined the very effort to ensure fairer elections in Connecticut.

    Finally unionthug, I actually think the issue you highlight is the easiest of all to fix – by simply requiring public fund matching up to the level of the non-participating opponent.

    The public financing system was not going to change everything – but when you look at the impact in the first cycle you see that the the center of the universe for candidate fundraising did dramatically shift from Hartford to their districts, that the system attracked tens of thousands of new donors to the process and I’m convinced that in future cycles we’d see non-competative seats become increasingly competative.

    It is a huge loss for fairer elections – but more importantly – it is an even bigger loss for better governance.

    The Governor and Legislature need to step forward to take action to repair this law – the question is – will they do it?

  11. Bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

    Extend the Equal Time rule to include all debates.

    Make Public Campaign Funding equitable and easy.

    Make Ballot access equitable and easy.

    There’s less harm from frivolous campaigns than exists under the current two party (or less) system.

  12. There’s less harm from frivolous campaigns than exists under the current two party (or less) system.

    What I don’t understand is how Republicans haven’t been able to adapt to the changing electoral landscape. They haven’t had a majority in the house for 25 years, which is pretty remarkable. They have never, in the recorded history of party affiliation in the Assembly, had such a pitiful showing as they have right now. But why? Even though I’m a Democrat, there should be a natural ebb and flow to party affiliation.

    I don’t like having a one-party state — why aren’t there any liberal Republicans? In South Carolina, in Arkansas, in Alaska, Democrats do as the Romans, you know? Why don’t the Republicans do that here?

    It’s not even a matter of changing your views — it’s about drawing candidates out of the pool of ordinary people with views in the mainstream of their community. I get that these little parties can give a home to fringe views, and that has a value. I just can’t comprehend why the Connecticut Republicans seem to be transitioning from a mainstream party to a rump faction.

  13. In the State Assembly incumbents have a big advantage as do those on the winning presidential ticket.

    Forced redistricting in the 60s made CT a state of Democrats. CT was cited as a poster child for redistricting when Hebron had 2 reps (one representing 192 voters) and Hartford had 2 reps (each had over 80,000 voters).

    From what I’ve seen in the towns I’ve lived conservatives run as Democrats as often as Republican because they want to be in the winning party. The Democrats primaries are where the action is not the general election.

    If CT funds SustiNet and elects a Democrat Governor I’ll believe CT is economically liberal. Until then the voters are OK with the Democrats on some social policies. One look at the death penalty and corrections budget tells you how liberal CT voters really are.

    I expect we’ll see a lot more Blue Dog Democrats winning in 2010/12 and Rell winning re-election if she runs. Until then I’ll believe CT Democrats are social liberals more concerned with Homosexual Marriage and regulating the Catholic Chuch than they are about economic justice or domestic violence or real reform. One has to only look at the bills that didn’t get out of committee or got through one house but not the other to smell the stench of Blue Dogs.

  14. “Finally unionthug, I actually think the issue you highlight is the easiest of all to fix – by simply requiring public fund matching up to the level of the non-participating opponent.”

    You don’t get it Jon. The court said you CANT do this. It violates the First Amendment. Read the decision, its at the end.

    Now, a participating candidate will be held at the spending limit, while the non-participating candidate can wildly exceed it – WITH NO MATCHING FUNDS. No level playing field.

    When you take this away from public financing, you make it weak and useless.

  15. The election financing system ruled unconstitution by the judge will not provide a necessary turn over in elected offices, however it is amended. Term limits will.

  16. As a Republican, I know a few reps who would not be in office without public financing, and thus you’d suppose I am in favor. I’m not. I think the First Amendment has it right — no restrictions, limitations or government intervention in political speech of any kind. So if this never gets resurrected, it’s fine with me.

  17. neither right nor left

    Good riddance to a horribly flawed law.

    Advocates of taxpayer funded elections cited the Rowland scandal as the need to clean-up our elections system and to impose this law. The reality is the Rowland scandal had nothing to do with elections and not a single lobbyist was ever indicted or convicted of doing anything wrong. The Governor and some of his friends did do wrong and they were convicted and punished. Taxpayer funded elections wouldn’t have changed a single fact in that sordid part of Connecticut’s history.

    All taxpayer funded elections accomplish, with their limits on what candidates may spend, is to protect incumbents from any real chance of losing…why?Because no challenger can hope to beat an incumbent when they are forced to spend no more than the incumbent. Incumbents have a huge built an advantage by virtue of their office and their trappings. Preventing challengers from trying to overcome those advantages by capping what they can spend stacks the deck against them. Sure a few incumbents lost last time but that was a result of a once in a generation (or maybe twice – time will tell) candidacy of Barack Obama.

    When this law was passed we heard how it would restore democracy in our state by encouraging candidates to run because they wouldn’t have to worry about raising money. Yet the reality was that in 2008 there were about the same number of unopposed candidates for the legislature as there were in 2006. So much for that bogus claim.

    Blumenthal is going to have a tough sell getting a stay. He’ll have to argue more harm will come from the law not being enforced than from the real hurt that it does to minor party candidates. That’s a heavy burden to prove.

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