7 reforms that could help fight corruption in Connecticut
1. Limit the power oflegislative leaders.
Connecticut’s speaker of the House and president of the Senate have close to absolute power in deciding what pieces of legislation make it to the floor for a vote in the General Assembly. For a variety of reasons, they can and do kill bills that would pass, sometimes by wide margins, if a vote was actually allowed. Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s bill to bring more transparency to state tax breaks (see No. 4) died in the Senate this year because it was never called for a vote despite widespread support. Last year, former Speaker of the House Chris Donovan blocked a bipartisan jobs bill from making it to the floor in retaliation for the Senate’s opposition to a minimum wage bill he was championing. When “roll-your-own” tobacco shop owners funneled illegal campaign cash into Donovan’s bid for U.S. Congress, they did so based on assurances from his staff that the speaker’s office could block legislation that would have increased taxes on their product.
2. Set firm rules and require a super-majority to break them.
Prohibit the passage of any piece of legislation without a well-publicized public hearing and committee review process, unless there’s a super-majority vote to suspend those rules. In Connecticut, where Democrats hold the majority, a super-majority would ensure the minority party has at least some say if items don’t go through the normal channels first.
3. Require transparency of private interests that receive taxpayer dollars.
Pass legislation that would require a strict set of reporting requirements be attached to any government grant, tax break or other public benefit for private business. If businesses are unwilling to open their books, they shouldn’t be allowed to receive tax dollars.
4. Pass the tax break transparency bill.
Comptroller Kevin Lembo proposed legislation this year that would have created a publicly searchable online database listing all Connecticut businesses taking advantage of tax breaks or government aid programs, and how much they’re receiving or saving. It passed the House unanimously, but died when the Senate failed to take it up by the end of the session.
5. Don’t gut campaign finance reform.
The state strengthened campaign finance laws in 2007 in the wake of the Gov. John Rowland corruption scandal. It banned lobbyists and state contractors from donating to campaigns, and established public financing of candidates who agree to limit the money they raise from business and special interests. This year, Democrats in the General Assembly, led by a governor concerned about his 2014 re-election bid, rolled back a number of those provisions, saying that candidates receiving public financing needed access to money for negative campaign ads to combat the new influence of Super PACs in the process.
6. Strengthen Connecticut’s attorney system.
Local state’s attorneys don’t have the resources for anti-corruption investigations, and don’t have the legal power to issue and request investigative supboenas to compel testimony**. There are no independently elected state-level or local prosecutors in the way that other states have district attorneys elected by voters. Recent corruption investigations in Connecticut have been driven by the FBI or other federal agencies, but there is a limit to the resources or interest we can expect them to devote to local and state corruption.
7. Close loopholes
Crack down on those who skirt lobbying restrictions by “volunteering” as a lobbyist while being paid for something else, as well as on legislative staffers who wear two hats, campaign and legislative. Prohibit lobbyists and business interests from donating to legislators during the session regardless of the campaign. We saw a clear example of this last year when then Speaker of the House Chris Donovan could collect money from lobbyists while he was in office—that’s because the donations were given to his U.S. Congress campaign.
Correction: This article originally reported local state's attorneys don’t have the legal power to ask a judge for wiretaps, which is incorrect. A communications specialist for the Chief State’s Attorney writes, “State’s attorneys do have the authority to seek wiretaps; the issue is the lack of authority to issue/request investigative subpoenas to compel testimony or the production of documents or other evidence in criminal investigations.”7 reforms that could help fight corruption in Connecticut