Malloy signs campaign finance law that loosens restrictions

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation Wednesday that will allow the state parties to make unlimited expenditures on Connecticut legislative races next year and permit a degree of coordination between political candidates and Super PACs that may later make independent expenditures on their behalf.

The law is a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that permits corporations and individuals to make unlimited independent expenditures: It requires greater disclosure of the resources behind of those expenditures, but it allows party committees to play the same game.

“Let me be very clear about why I’m signing this bill into law,” Malloy said. “The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case was a tragic decision.”

The legislation has a major flaw in the view of some critics: It does not create a firewall barring all coordination bewtween a candidate and a political action committee, according to Karen Hobert Flynn, a vice president of Common Cause.

Until a Super PAC makes or announces an intention to make an independent expenditure on behalf of a candidate, that candidate can help raise money for the committee, Hobert Flynn said.

“Gov. Malloy or someone running against him could be appearing on a weekly basis to raise money for a Super PAC, raise millions of dollars for a Super PAC,” Hobert Flynn said. “That’s not called coordination. That embeds the joke that is the federal law in Connecticut law.”

Several elements of the legislation, which did not attract a Republican vote in either chamber, were sought by the Senate Democratic majority in reaction to independent groups’ spending $500,000 to defeat a handful of Democrats in the closing weeks of the 2012 campaign.

It was criticized by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

In a statement accompanying a notice that he had signed the bill, Malloy emphasized its disclosure provisions and was silent on the new money it will allow into political races — or the potential it holds for him or other candidates to raise money for a Super PAC.

“As the first candidate for governor elected under the state’s public financing system, I am deeply committed to the principle that the people of Connecticut have a right to know who’s paying for the advertisements and other expenditures that are designed to sway public opinion prior to an election,” Malloy said.

After a corruption scandal forced the resignation of Gov. John  G. Rowland in 2004, his successor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, and legislators agreed on sweeping reforms, including a ban on state contractor contributions and the creation of the Citizens Election Program that publicly finances campaigns.

Malloy was the first governor elected using the program in which candidates for legislative and statewide office can obtain public grants – but only if they agree to spending limits ranging from little more than $15,000 for a state House race to $6.25 million for governor.

Senate Democrats said the system has no flexibility for participating candidates to respond to a late infusion of dollars by outside groups on negative ads, as occurred two years ago. Under the new law, the state parties now can provide greater cover for candidates facing late attacks.

“People have claimed this is the end of public financing, but that’s not true,” Hobert Flynn said. “There has to be some recognition that participating candidates are vulnerable to outside spending.”

The governor alluded only indirectly to criticism of the bill.

“The bill I’m signing today requires a level of disclosure that few if any other states require. No bill is perfect,” he said. “But this bill makes Connecticut a national leader in requiring disclosure and transparency.”

Malloy also signed the budget into law, as was expected. He issued a lengthy press release about the budget signing, but held no public ceremony.

The bills were among the 25 signed Wednesday by Malloy, who now has signed 154 bills and vetoed one: That bill would have required the state to establish standards for the spray polyurethane foam insulation industry.

 

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