House performs minor fix on campaign financing system

House members voted Tuesday to give themselves 30 days to fix the state campaign finance program if a federal appeals court upholds a trial judge’s decision concluding that the program is unconstitutional.

Before the 137-12 vote, several lawmakers said the present 7-day window was insufficient, calling it “a ticking time bomb.”

“This bill simply gives the General Assembly a reasonable tool and time to respond in a meaningful manner,” said Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, House chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

The legislature adopted The Citizens’ Election Program in 2005, creating a voluntary system of publicly financing campaigns. It also banned contributions from lobbyists, state contractors and their spouses.

The program was available for the first time to legislators in 2008, and 75 percent of the candidates participated. This is the first year when candidates for governor and other statewide constitutional offices are eligible.

Several legislators expressed concern that the legislature has decided not to deal with the underlying constitutional problems outlined in U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill’s 9-month old decision.

“This fix is nothing. It does not address the concerns that were brought up by the trial court or the federal court. …  This is simply a bill that disarms, or deactivates if you will, the time bomb,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk.