Thursday, December 01, 2005

Conn. Senate Passes Campaign Finance Laws

ABC News
Conn. Senate Passes Campaign Finance Laws
Conn. Senate Passes Some of the Most Sweeping Changes in Campaign Finance Laws in the Country
The Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. - The state Senate on Wednesday approved some of the most sweeping changes in campaign finance laws in the country, including tight restrictions on contributions and a voluntary, publicly funded election system.

The House took up the bill later in the evening. The legislation would be the first to enact a public financing system applying to all statewide races, including those for the Legislature.

"The bill before us ... does things that no other state in this union has done. It will give us the cleanest, most comprehensive system," said Democratic Sen. Donald DeFronzo, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 27-8 in favor of the bill. Four Republicans supported the legislation, which would take effect Dec. 31, 2006. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she would sign the bill into law if it reaches her desk.

The bill allots about $17 million each year in public funds for political campaigns. To reduce the influence of special interests, the bill bans political contributions from lobbyists and state contractors.

Candidates must raise a certain amount to qualify for public funds and agree to campaign spending limits. Candidates who opt out of the plan are not restricted to how much they raise or spend, but still cannot collect money from lobbyists and contractors.

The legislation comes in the wake of a corruption scandal last year that sent Gov. John G. Rowland to prison and led to his former co-chief of staff and a major state contractor to plead guilty in federal court. Two mayors in the state have also gone to prison in recent years.

Democratic House Speaker James Amann said he believes the reforms will ultimately make legislators and other politicians more accountable to their constituents.

Other state legislatures have created public financing for just a few elected offices, such as the governor and lieutenant governor in Vermont, top judges in North Carolina and a regulatory commission in New Mexico that oversees corporations.

New Jersey recently passed a trial public financing program that affected two legislative seats this year and will apply to four in 2007.

Maine and Arizona have public financing systems created by ballot initiatives.