Final decision on public financing will come after primary
Democratic leaders of the state House and Senate said Wednesday they aim to override Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto of their bill to revise the state’s public campaign finance law, but the final outcome won’t be known until after next week’s primary election.
That leaves Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican Michael Fedele–both battling self-funding millionaires for their respective parties’ gubernatorial nominations–unsure of how much money they’ll have for the general election should they win Tuesday’s primaries.
Key elements of the state’s campaign finance reform law were ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court last month, including a provision that increased grants to candidates participating in the program if a non-participating opponent spends more than a statutory limit.
Legislative Democrats tried to address that ruling by raising the base grant for gubernatorial candidates from $3 million to $6 million, but Rell vetoed the measure.
The Senate plans to convene Thursday, and Democrats say they have the votes they need to override Rell.
“Our plan is to come in… and override the governor,” said Derek Slap, a Senate Democrats spokesman.
The bill passed the Senate 23-12 last week, one vote shy of the 24 needed to override. But Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, was absent for that vote and is expected to be present Thursday and add her vote in favor of the bill.
However, the House of Representatives doesn’t plan to convene until Aug. 13, three days after the primary election.
“Our goal is to overturn the veto,” said House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden. He said that the House will not convene until after the primary because of scheduling conflicts. “It’s such a small margin, we want to make sure everyone is there.”
The House Democrats have enough members to override a veto, but fell 26 votes short of a veto-proof majority when the bill passed Friday — 18 Democrats voted “no,” and 21 were absent.
The results of the primary could throw an interesting partisan twist in how lawmakers vote.
If Republican Tom Foley and Democrat Ned Lamont win, the issue will be moot for this year. Both are wealthy businessmen who have opted out of public financing and are prepared to spend a large amount of their own money on their campaigns. Republican Oz Griebel also opted out of the public finance system, but he lacks Lamont and Foley’s resources and is way behind the other candidates in fund raising and in the polls.
If Malloy and Fedele win, they will be evenly matched whatever the outcome of the campaign finance debate.
Donovan said if Fedele and Malloy win their respective primaries, leadership may rethink increasing the grants.
“I think we will probably take a look at it,” he said.
Rell and Republican leaders have said they oppose increasing the grants, no matter the circumstances.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said it would be “unconscionable” to make decisions based on the outcome of Tuesday’s primary, but inevitably that is what it will likely come down to.
“To vote no and then to turn around and vote yes, it’s hard to say that’s not political and not just voting for your party’s candidate to get more money,” he said.
But Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, last week voted in favor of increasing the grants, although she earlier had opposed spending money on public financing while the state is in the midst of a fiscal crisis. “I don’t want the Democrat to lose because they can’t spend as much,” she said.
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