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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Connecticut Legislature Poised to Pass Clean Money

As Susan Haigh reports for the AP in Newsday, the Connecticut Legislature is discussing a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill, including a program of public financing for qualifying candidates. Folks on the ground in Hartford tell us the Senate will likely pass the bill this afternoon, with the House to pass it sometime late tonight or tomorrow.

If the CT Legislature passes the bill, it would be the first state legislature to enact public financing of elections for itself. Maine and Arizona each passed public financing for legislative and statewide offices through ballot initiative.

The bill would also ban contributions from lobbyists and state contractors, a source of much consternation and criminal liability for former governor John Rowland. While the bill would not be the strongest in the nation - some states, including Vermont, Colorado, Maine, and Arizona, have lower contribution limits - the public financing program ranks it near the top.

Connecticut Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group deserve kudos for keeping the legislature's feet to the fire on the public financing aspects of the bill, while ConnPIRG deserves the same for holding the line on contribution limits for House races, which stayed at $250 per contributor. However, the limits on contributions to gubernatorial candidates were raised from $2,500 to $3,500 and for state senate races from $500 to $1,000, both well over what most folks in Connecticut can afford.

Unfortunately, the bill may set up a higher standard for third parties under the public financing program. Candidates which do not belong to one of the two major parties must collect the same number of dollars and signatures to qualify for the program, but get less money. Public financing is a great way to level the playing field for candidates that represent regular folks to take on those backed by wealthy special interests, but when major parties use a system to advantage themselves over third party candidates, it does a disservice to those voters who don't see 100% eye-to-eye with the major parties.

Regardless, if the people of Connecticut get to vote on some publicly financed candidates, it will be a significant victory for citizens and reformers alike.

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