Monday, June 06, 2005

National Opportunities for Reform - Connecticut Elections May Come Clean

Sometimes it takes a former governor sitting in prison to get lawmakers to move towards meaningful campaign finance reform. As Stacey Stowe reports in The New York Times, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell and the state legislature are close to a deal that would make the Constitution State the third state (after Maine and Arizona) in the union to check the dominance of big money in politics by providing public financing for qualified campaigns.

Earlier in the negotiations, Rell had expressed some reluctance to put public financing on the table. Last week, however, she reversed course and offered to consider public financing in exchange for a ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. While some Senators are now backing off their earlier strong support for public financing, a deal is still possible before the legislative session ends on Wednesday.

The citizens of Connecticut overwhelmingly support the public financing of elections according to a recent poll, with 82% of likely CT voters saying there's a need to check the influence of money in politics and 76% saying public financing of elections is a good way to accomplish that. While this may have something to do with the fact that former CT governor John Rowland is sitting in a jail cell for accepting illegal gifts from state contractors and big-time campaign contributors, these numbers are close to the nationwide numbers - maybe even a little low - when you ask folks whether money has too much influence in politics.

It comes as no surprise. There are no shortage of bad actors - Ken Lay/Enron, Ohio coin con Tom Noe, Charles Kushner, Julie Lee - to demonstrate how self-serving large contributors are or how little they care about the rest of us.

Nor is there any shortage of rich megalomaniacs - NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg ($73 million), New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine ($63 million), California gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly ($10 million so far), Washington Senator Maria Cantwell ($10 million in 2000), Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton ($8 million in 2000), Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl ($5 million in 2000), 2004 California State Assembly candidate Steve Poizner ($6.2 million), just to name a few - who use their fortune to try to buy their way into office.

The problem is that the vast majority of politicians don't want to fix the system that put them into power, even if it is in the public's interest to do so. Nor is the chattering class, mainly a bunch of smug and self-satisfied lackeys paid by wealthy America to offer excuses and flimsy rationales for the status quo, interested in offending their paymasters with calls for reform.

In other words, you know things are bad when politicians are actually discussing meaningful campaign reform. As such, Governor Rell's overture to the Connecticut Legislature presents an invaluable opportunity. Here's hoping they heed the call of our nation's founding principles and the citizens they represent and pass a clean elections bill.

If you're a Connecticut voter, you can contact Governor Rell to give her your thoughts here, or find your legislator to do the same here.

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