( - promoted by ctblogger)
In 2012, for the first time ever, independent expenditure groups outpaced political parties in election spending across the country. Much of this outside spending was from Super PACs and "dark money" groups that are not required to disclose their donors. Groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS that were focused on the presidential and US senate races got most of the attention, but even in Connecticut, where we have public financing of elections and strong campaign finance disclosure laws, almost $600,000 was spent by outside groups in General Assembly races in 2012 -- mainly to support Republicans. The fact that Connecticut's public financing system limits spending by participating candidates means that a few hundred thousand dollars of independent expenditure money can have an outsized impact.
Since the ethics scandal that brought down Governor John Rowland, Connecticut has made dramatic improvements in its campaign finance laws, but Citizens United and other campaign finance loopholes threaten to make a mockery of these reforms. In case anyone doubts that the impact of Citizens United, which just celebrated its third anniversary, is now being felt at the state level in Connecticut, look at what happened in 2012: state senator Steve Cassano, a Democrat from the 4th district representing Manchester, Glastonbury, Bolton and Marlborough, was shocked to find a last-minute barrage of campaign ads bashing him in the days leading up to the November election. It turned out these ads were funded not by his opponent, Republican Cheri Ann Pelletier, but by a shadowy Fairfield-based super-PAC. According to the campaign expenditure filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the so-called Voters for Good Government Inc., a political action committee set up as a phony "social welfare" organization, spent more than $136,000 in ads attacking Cassano in the 10 days before the election. That spending represented substantially more than Cassano spent in his entire campaign. Cassano and his senate Democrat colleagues blasted the Super PAC's attempt to "buy" the senate seat for GOPer Pelletier (Cassano ended up winning the race), but do these Democrats have the political will to actually do anything about it?
On February 11 the legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee is holding a public hearing on legislation that would toughen disclosure requirements for independent expenditure groups. They need to hear from citizens that we want the bill written in a way that passes constitutional muster and won't run into the governor's veto pen, but without watering down aggressive disclosure requirements. A poorly written disclosure bill passed the legislature last year, but was vetoed by Governor Malloy, who cited some legitimate (and some less legitimate) concerns with the legislation. The legislature elected not to attempt to override the veto, or to fix the bill in special session. (I wrote about that at My Left Nutmeg: http://www.myleftnutmeg.com/di...
Will 2013 be the year that Connecticut gets tough on Citizens United, and establishes a powerful precedent for the nation that the brave new world of dark money will not be tolerated?