Passage of Clean Elections bill means Connecticut citizens could get more responsive elected officials

“This is a huge victory for Connecticut citizens,” said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, which is leading efforts to bring public financing to state, municipal and judicial elections nationwide. “Average voters will have a more powerful voice in the political process because candidates running for office can be released from the dreaded chore of endless fundraising. That means candidates can be more responsive to voters, not just wealthy donors, and that can reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics.”

“After being a poster child for scandal, Connecticut now has the chance to show the country a better way to limit the corrupting influence of money in political campaigns,” Pingree said.

After its former governor went to jail for accepting lavish gifts from contractors with business before the state, the Connecticut Legislature became the first state in the country to approve voluntary public financing for legislative and statewide races early Thursday. Other states, such as Maine and Arizona, have public financing, but voters approved those measures through ballot initiatives, not lawmakers who will have to live under the new system. Gov. Jodi Rell (R) has said she will sign the legislation.

“This is a ray of hope,” Pingree said. “We’ve been seeing the benefits of clean elections in Maine for five years, and now Connecticut can be a leader for other states that want to make seeking public office more accessible to all citizens.”

The victory in Connecticut comes weeks after voters in Albuquerque, N.M. approved a similar public financing ballot initiative for their municipal elections. Arizona and Maine also have voluntary public financing of state campaigns. Portland, Oregon, has it for municipal campaigns, and North Carolina has public financing of judicial campaigns.

Common Cause worked with the Connecticut Citizens Action Group and Public Campaign to bring about this historic win. Common Cause acknowledges the dedicated, hard work of Karen Hobert Flynn, chairwoman of Connecticut Common Cause and chief strategist of the campaign, and Andy Sauer, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut.

The Connecticut bill takes effect Dec. 31, 2006, after the end of the current election cycle. The voluntary system can be used for the first time to the 2008 state legislative campaigns. Under most circumstances, qualifying candidates would be given $25,000 for House and $85,000 for Senate races.

To qualify for the public financing, candidates would have to earn a place on the ballot and further show their viability by raising seed money. House and Senate candidates would need $5,000 and $15,000, respectively, in contributions of no more than $100, with 90 percent of the money raised within the state. In addition, House candidates would need to raise 150 contributions of $5 or more and Senate candidates would need to raise 300 contributions from within their district. A gubernatorial candidate would need to raise $250,000 in small contributions. In 2010, gubernatorial candidates would be eligible for $1.25 million to wage primaries and $3 million for general-election campaigns from individuals.

In addition, the bill includes:

A ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists

A ban on campaign contributions from state contractors

The elimination of the notorious “ad books,” a blatant loophole to the corporate contribution ban.

The end of unlimited contributions from political action committees.