Fixing Corrupticut: Malloy, Rell, Foley and others weigh in on reforming Connecticut politics
Connecticut Magazine asked 10 people from all political stripes what they’d recommend to reduce corruption in the state.
A common thread in most responses was faith in the state’s public campaign funding law’s ability to stem wrongdoing. But tempering that faith was concern that the system is being undermined by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations and others.
Here are highlights of their responses:
Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell
Rell—a Republican who served as governor from 2004 to 2011—says the best way to combat corruption is to preserve the public campaign-finance system, donation restrictions and other reforms that she signed into law. She supported the changes after her predecessor John G. Rowland and others went to prison in a corruption scandal.
In her view, the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy weakened some of those reforms.
“It’s not so much what we should be doing, it’s what we shouldn’t be doing and that’s going back to the old ways of campaign finance,” Rell says. “We did it (reform) and very slowly we see it start to erode. I think that’s a big mistake.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
Malloy, a Democrat, says the best defense against corruption is the state’s public campaign financing law and vigilance by candidates and prosecutors.
“I think every candidate who can participate in the system should,” says Malloy, who used the new system in 2010. “Quite frankly, anyone who is not willing to participate is really just attacking the system.”
In response to Rell’s criticism, Malloy says that campaign finance laws had to change because of the explosion in outside spending caused by the Citizens United decision.
He says, “To pretend that the system is—as assaulted by Citizens United—as strong as it needs to be is to put your head in the sand.”
Thomas C. Foley
2010 Republican Gubernatorial Candidate
Foley, who is seeking a rematch with Gov. Malloy next year, would ban anyone earning $1,000 or more from a lobbyist, public employee union or state contractor from the legislature and executive positions in state government. Those groups have a direct stake in public policy, creating conflicts of interest, he says.
“I consider that a form of corruption,” Foley says. “It’s not currently illegal, but it should be.”
A longtime GOP fundraiser, Foley sees no need to curb money in politics or donations from individuals.
“I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I’ll give to the candidate if the candidate would agree to do this or that,’” he says. “Most do it because they believe in a person or an issue or a cause. They’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Executive Director, New Haven Democracy Fund
Krayeske, a political activist, journalist, lawyer and 2010 Green party congressional candidate, says reducing money in politics is key to fighting corruption. He would expand public financing to the federal level, lower state donation limits and require increased transparency and disclosure.
In addition to the Citizens United decision, Krayeske, an unaffiliated voter, sees the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision as a major problem because it established money as speech.
“Buckley v. Valeo is the original sin of money in politics,” he says. “Money is not speech. When I open my mouth, quarters don’t fall off my tongue.”
Krayeske favors a constitutional amendment overturning both the Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo decisions.
Jonathan Harris, Executive Director, Democratic State Central Committee
Harris, a former state senator, thinks the antidote is to preserve public campaign and ethics laws.
“Public financing took money out of politics, that drive for fundraising,” he says. “On the federal level, though, we don’t have that. So the drive for dollars is still there.”
Harris favors public financing of federal elections.
Because of the growing impact of Citizens United, he says we must have tougher disclosure laws to expose last-minute money bombs.
He adds: “Our position is that if you can let billionaires dump their money into a race, at least we should know where that money is coming from.”
Chris Powell, Managing Editor, Journal Inquirer
Powell, a libertarian critical of both the state’s major political parties, offers a three- part prescription to fight corruption:
Strengthen Freedom of Information laws to assure that all wrongdoers and wrongdoing are disclosed to the public;
Significantly expand the size the state auditors office so it can audit state agencies much more often;
Empower the auditors to investigate municipalities, and quasi-public agencies and organizations receiving state funds above a certain level.
“These steps would discourage corruption in the legal sense,” says Powell. “Defining corruption in the moral and political sense and figuring out how to discourage them are much more difficult.”
Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director, Common Cause Connecticut
Quickmire, whose organization advocates for good government, believes that the state’s public financing system and ethics laws are robust checks on corruption.
Citizen’s United, however, opened the floodgates to unlimited spending in federal—and increasingly in state—elections, she says, citing that more than $564,000 in independent expenditures (a nearly 17-fold increase over 2010) was directed at state senate candidates alone.
“It’s the Wild West,” she says of spending in federal elections. “There aren’t any rules. It’s all about how much you can raise regardless of where you are getting it.”
Quickmire’s solution: More and better disclosure, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overturning Citizens United and public financing of federal elections.
Jerry Labriola, Chairman, Republican State Central Committee
Labriola says the trial of former Donovan finance director Robert Braddock underscores the importance of ethics as well as openness and transparency in government in stemming corruption. He criticizes Malloy weakening the state’s watchdog agencies.
“One of the best ways to discourage unethical behavior is to make sure that a bright light shines on the actions of all public officials,” says Labriola. “Gov. Malloy has made that process far more difficult in Connecticut.”
Brendan Sharkey, Speaker of the House
Sharkey says that increasing confidence in government and reducing the potential for improper influence go hand-in-hand in fighting corruption.
He notes that Connecticut enacted some of the nation’s toughest election and ethics laws after Rowland resigned in disgrace. They include a ban on contractors giving political donations and public financing of elections.
“Had Congress adopted these reforms on a national level in Washington, we would not have seen the problems that resulted in the Braddock trial,” he says.
Larry Cafero, House Minority Leader
In response to several Connecticut Magazine requests, Cafero’s office would not agree to an interview or to provide a written statement.Fixing Corrupticut: Malloy, Rell, Foley and others weigh in on reforming Connecticut politics