If you thought last week’s Sweet Victory–highlighting the electoral reform movement sweeping North America–was encouraging, you’ll be thrilled with the news coming out of Connecticut. Yesterday, Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell called for a “clean elections bill,” in what could become the boldest and most far-reaching plan for campaign finance reform in the country.
And Connecticut, which has been wracked by recent government corruption, is badly in need of reform. The scandal surrounding former Gov. John Rowland, who resigned and is now serving a one-year prison sentence for accepting gifts from state contractors, is symptomatic of a campaign system that favors big money and special interests over voters.
After weeks of deadlock, Rell and State Senate Republicans not only agreed to accept the Democrats’ plan for public financing of all statewide campaigns but took the reform further, proposing a ban on contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. “This is real reform,” said Rell, who will set aside $5 million to fund the initiative. “If you accept it, we will make history in Connecticut.”
Rell’s sudden turnaround seems too good to be true for some of the House Democrats, who remain skeptical about how the radical proposal will affect their party in the state. Tom Swan, Executive Director of the Clean-Up Connecticut Campaign–a coalition of fifty organizations rallying for campaign reform–says “corporate Democrats” are the only thing standing in the way of getting the bill passed. “They’re tentative because they’re being asked to accept a totally open process for a political system that they’ve figured out how to win,” says Swan. “It takes a great deal of courage for both parties to admit that the current way we finance campaigns is corrupt.”
Maine and Arizona have strong public finance laws, but those came about as a result of ballot initiatives, and don’t have the sweeping scope of Rell’s proposal. “This would be the strongest campaign finance reform bill ever passed,” says David Donnelly of Public Campaign, “and the fact that this initiative came from within the legislature is unprecedented.”
Connecticut’s legislative session ends on June 6, and while Donnelly is confident that both parties will come to an agreement by the deadline, he urges Connecticut residents to click here and write to their legislators demanding the best possible reform.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.