Malloy, legislature make last stab at campaign reform

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration is in difficult talks with the Democratic legislative majority over campaign finance reform, one of the flashpoints in Malloy’s relationship with legislators in his second year as governor.

The General Assembly would return in special session if a compromise can be reached, an unlikely prospect given that the scope of the issues reach beyond legal questions raised by Malloy in his veto last week of a finance disclosure bill.

“I think we’re more or less at an impasse in terms of doing anything significant before the November elections,” said House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.

In a trailer session Monday, the legislature will make no attempt to override any of Malloy’s vetoes.


J. Brendan Sharkey: ‘An impasse’

Democratic legislators prefer a narrow bill that would afford them a measure of immediate protection against hostile independent campaign expenditures during their re-election bids this fall, while the governor wants broader changes that also would strengthen his re-election in 2014.

Karen Hobert Flynn of Common Cause said the administration has to decide what is most important: Holding out for a more generous public financing grant in 2014, or acting now to stem a potential flood of secret money.

“The governor’s inaction has left candidates running this fall vulnerable to secret attacks,” she said. “The governor can say he supports disclosure, but he needs to demonstrate it with action.”

Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser, said the governor is committed to disclosure, but there is no reason the legislature cannot look beyond this fall.

Without a change in state law, Malloy faces a choice of running his 2014 re-election campaign on a $6 million public grant or opting out of the voluntary system of publicly financing campaigns. His Republican opponent, Tom Foley, spent $12.7 million in 2010.

“We’re talking about ways to try to maintain something of a level playing field,” Occhiogrosso said.

Democratic legislators say Malloy has legitimate concerns about the ability of a publicly financed candidate to compete in 2014 on a $6 million budget, but they object to Malloy’s insistence on a solution now.

In short, legislators see no reason to cast what could be an unpopular vote in a bad economy — increasing public financing for a gubernatorial campaign — as they run for re-election. It is an issue, they say, that can be addressed in 2013.

“The administration and legislature are just on different pages. I think both sides acknowledge there is a genuine concern to be addressed in terms of how outside expenditures influence our elections,” Sharkey said. “I think the difference is those of us in the legislature have to face elections in four months.”

The difference in perspectives is a symptom of the inability of Malloy, the first governor in 40 years without legislative experience, and the legislature to always understand the other’s political concerns. Legislators have been more willing to push back in 2012 against a governor whose approach to public policy seems to be bigger, bolder, faster.


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Legislators have a limited appetite for election-year risk-taking after voting in 2011 for a $1.5 billion tax increase, a higher-education reorganization and a major investment in bioscience research at the University of Connecticut Health Center, including a major genetics center in partnership with The Jackson Laboratory.

“The relationships have had their ups and downs. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Occhiogrosso said. “I think on balance, on the governor’s behalf, he appreciates the work (lawmakers) have done and the tough decisions they’ve been asked to make.”

Occhiogrosso took issue with legislative concerns that the administration has left Democratic legislators vulnerable at the polls.

“The relationship between this governor and this Democratic-controlled legislature has produced a 20-percent drop in unemployment, a balanced budget for the first time in three years and a state government that is producing billions in [long-term] savings,” he said. “While the relationship hasn’t always been easy, it’s been productive, and that is something they can run on this fall.”

Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said the legislature’s relationship with the governor has been productive, despite the differences now.

“On the big issues like creating jobs and education reform, we’ve been able to work out our differences and get things done,” Joseph said. “When it comes to campaign finance reform, our top priority is transparency. It is important for people to know who is funding political advertising.”

Campaign finance reform has been an especially sensitive issue for the governor and legislators, since it directly involves his political interests and theirs, and the failure to resolve their differences before last week’s veto points to an inability or unwillingness to negotiate.

The Malloy administration initially proposed that a publicly financed candidate for governor be allowed to also accept unlimited special interest money if outspent by an opponent who is not constrained by the spending limits of the public-financing program.

But that proposal flew in the face of court rulings that ban supplemental funds triggered by an opponent’s spending, and it also drew near-universal scorn over the idea of mixing special interest money with public financing.

The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee instead drafted a bill that would increase the public financing grant from $1.25 million to $2.5 million for a primary and from $6 million to $9 million for a general election.

In May, on the final weekend of the legislature’s regular session, legislative leaders presented their rank-and-file with an omnibus campaign finance bill based on the elections committee’s proposal, which also required far-reaching financial disclosure provisions on groups that make independent expenditures in Connecticut.

The bill also was calculated to offset the specter of expenditures by independent groups. It doubled the expenditures that a political organization could make on behalf of a publicly financed candidate for General Assembly to $20,000 for a state senator and $7,000 for a state representative.

But House Democrats defied leadership, refusing to accept increasing the grant for a gubernatorial campaign from $6 million to $9 million. The provision was then stripped from the bill, adding to the legislature’s friction with the administration.

Malloy vetoed the bill last week, calling it an unconstitutional intrusion in free political discourse. He was supported by the ACLU.

His veto message said the bill defined independent expenditure so broadly that it could apply to almost any communication involving a public office within 90 days of an election.