Common Cause slams Malloy veto of campaign finance bill

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a controversial campaign finance disclosure bill Friday, saying it would have a “chilling effect on issue advocacy.” The veto provoked disappointment by legislative leaders and a stinging denunciation of Malloy’s commitment to reform by Common Cause.

The bill pitted Common Cause and other campaign reform advocates against the ACLU, newspapers and business groups, which argued that the legislation was poorly written and overly intrusive. The goal was to provide greater disclsoure about independent expenditures.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill opposed elements of the bill that essentially would have allowed voting by fax or email.

“This is not Gov. Malloy against the world,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser, defending the veto and responding to Common Cause. “There is a coalition, an interesting coalition…they have identified any number of problems with this bill.”

Malloy declined to comment earlier Friday when asked about the bill, but his veto message said the bill defined independent expenditure so broadly that could apply to almost any communication involving a public office within 90 days of an election.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association and ACLU opposed the bill, later joined by the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association.

“Gov. Malloy recognizes that meaningful reform of campaign finance is possible without compromising the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “The bill didn’t achieve that balance. The governor’s veto provides a chance to try again, and to get it right.”

Schneider said the bill would have required organizations to disclose names of major contributors as a condition of speaking about elected officials or issues.

While the intent of the bill was to force the disclosure of unlimited, independent expenditures meant to influence elections, it would have applied to organizations that advocate only on issues, never supporting or opposing political candidates, he said.

Under current law, donors to non-profit issues groups like ACLU, Planned Parenthood or the Family Institute of Connecticut are generally not disclosable.

Common Cause was quick with an expression of disappointment.

“Common Cause believes he has squandered an opportunity to pass the strongest disclosure bill in the country,” said Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director of Common Cause in Connecticut.

The veto is evidence of a measure of political dysfunction at the Capitol, as it was clear in recent days that the Democratic administration and Democratic legislative leadership were unable or unwilling to resolve differences on the bill.

The administration signaled its intention to veto the bill, but Malloy’s legal staff and top legislative staff never entered in negotiations prior to the recent special session, according to Andrew McDonald, a former state senator who is the governor’s general counsel.

The governor’s office raised concerns about the bill prior to its passage shortly before the end of the regular session in May, he said.

But Common Cause fixed more blame on the administration, saying that House and Senate leaders were willing to address concerns raised by the governor and outside groups about the measure, known as House Bill 5556.

“We are skeptical that the governor will negotiate a strong disclosure bill, because he made no effort to negotiate with legislative leaders on HB 5556, which passed the House and the Senate over a month ago,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president for Common Cause.

House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Friday the administration rebuffed an attempt by legislative leaders to negotiate changes that could have been made in last week’s special session, avoiding a veto.

“Essentially it was made clear by the administration the issues were too voluminous to be able to take on,” Sharkey said. “The breadth and scope of what they objected to was so large there was really no fixing it in the context of the special session.”

Sharkey said the bill was an important attempt to force the disclsoure of the sources of money behind what he fears will be a deluge of commercials by independent groups after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.

The ruling said the government cannnot ban spending by corporations in elections.

“I think folks on both sides of the aisle are going to be significantly at risk in the 2012 elections to outside forces,” he said. “They have already indiciated they are interested in coming into the state and spreading some money around. In post-Citizens United world, there is a source for concern.”

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, tried to downplay differences with the Malloy administration.

“My hope is that the issue is not one of philosophy, but is one of input and additional time for negotiation,” Williams said. “I think we’re all on the same page that we want greater accountability.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said the veto was justified.

“Regardless of what one thinks of the Citizens’ United decision, the Connecticut legislature does not have the authority to violate the constitutional rights of its citizens in enacting its own campaign finance laws,” McKinney said. “This bill went too far, and I’m pleased with the governor’s veto.”

Hobert Flynn used unusually harsh language in criticizing Malloy, noting that his administration had proposed legislative language that would have allowed publicly financed candidates to accept special interest money when faced with a high-spending, privately funded opponent.

“The fact is that the governor’s track record on reform in this area has not been strong,” Hobert Flynn said. “The governor’s addition to the …disclosure bill would have undermined reforms currently on the books by wiping out all contribution limits if a candidate was the victim of independent expenditures. That would have meant that a corporation or other special interest would have been able to give a multi-million dollar contributions to his campaign.”

Occhiogrosso the administration respects Common Cause and Hobert Flynn, but he described her statement as “ridiculous.”

Malloy is the first governor elected under the state’s public financing program, which provided him $8.5 million in public funds for a primary and general election on the condition he live withing strict spending limits, even though he faced wealthy, self-funded candidates in the primary and general, he said.

“So, we don’t really need a lecture on campaign finance,” Occhiogrosso said.