Thursday, May 04, 2006

Connecticut Clean Money Bill Gets Cindarella Save

As Christopher Keating and Elizabeth Hamilton report in the Hartford Courant, at three minutes to midnight on Wednesday night, the Connecticut Legislature passed a bill which makes important fixes to the state's 2005 clean elections law. The session ended at midnight.

When the Connecticut Legislature passed the clean elections law last December, it became the first state legislature to pass a clean elections law which applied to itself. Arizona and Maine also have clean elections - elections where qualifying candidates can receive public funds to campaign in return for a promise to abide by a spending limit and to forego private financing - but the programs in those states were passed via the ballot initiative process.

But the Connecticut law had some potentially fatal flaws. The Legislature had included a provision which would have permanently invalidated the law if a judge had temporarily enjoined the law for three days or more. Because the law had a higher standard for candidates from third parties to receive public funds, it was a sure thing that the law would be challenged and likely enjoined for at least three days, effectively nullifying the law.

The effort to fix the flaw soon became a litmus test for how serious the Legislature was about enacting such a positive reform. Institutional desire for self-reform is normally rare and tenuous, calling into question whether the fateful provision was intentionally inserted as a poison pill to kill the whole bill.

While it is unclear whether last night's bill will effectively solve the issues presented by the problematic provisions of the original law, the Legislature and its leaders have answered some of the concerns about their sincerity in passing the law last year, and should be commended.

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