Floren: Campaign Finance — Not For Faint-Hearted

Connecticut State Representative Livvy R. Floren

Connecticut State Representative Livvy R. Floren

After witnessing a primary season of dirty politics and divisiveness, bombast and blasphemy, lies and libel, negativity and nastiness, anger and animosity — all paid for with millions of dollars from anonymous donors to PACs and Super PACs, I think we can — and we must — do better.

My odyssey as a good government advocate began in 2001 when I first joined the Government Administration and Elections Committee where I served for 12 years (including four years as Ranking Member). From that up front and personal seat, I was involved in it all—the Help America Vote Act which overhauled the way we vote and brought us from the lever machine to the electronic optical scan/paper ballot, clean contracting laws, stringent ethics regulations, campaign finance reform…and the advent of the publicly financed Citizens Election Program.

In order to mitigate the magnitude of felonies that earned our State the name “Corrupticut,” the Citizens Election Program and sweeping new campaign laws were enacted in 2005. For more than a decade, the program was working well and accomplishing the goals of taking special interest money out of the process and increasing accountability and civility in the electoral process.

Then, along came the Citizens United Supreme Court decision…and everything changed. In my opinion, campaign finance needs to be completely revisited and retooled. Entirely too much money is being frittered away on banners, ball caps, badges, and bumper stickers. Super PACs are contributing millions of dollars with impunity (not even disclosing the names of donors)…along with money from lobbyists and contractors who do business with the State. To add insult to judicial injury, there was a scheme to entirely suspend the Citizens Election Program for 2016 in a feeble attempt to help close the budget deficit…fortunately, this proposal was summarily rejected.

Campaign finance reform has multiple, complicated ramifications. I am not impugning anyone’s motives and realize that the issue is subject to numerous interpretations. However, the bottom line is and always shall be: Follow the money, Campaign finance is not a subject for the faint of heart. It takes diligence and vigilance. Observation always alters the process observed…it’s all in how you look at it. In 2014, 75% of my General Assembly colleagues participated in the Citizens Election Program, at a cost of more than $10 million dollars. The five Constitutional Officers’ campaigns (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, and Treasurer) could cost—in the aggregate—upwards of $16 million—not including primaries. Twenty six million dollars is a lot of taxpayer money that might be better spent for programs to help the elderly, the indigent, and the ill…plus public education. The Citizens Election Program has resulted in attracting more participants in the process, more women/minorities/political outsiders as candidates, and more time spent discussing issues instead of “dialing for dollars.” But, especially in this economy, the taxpayer grants seem entirely too generous…and the program still allows for additional millions of dollars of anonymous “dark” money which lurks in the shadows.

Some reforms I would like to see going forward are:

  • Shortening the timeline for campaigns
  • Decreasing the grant amounts
  • Lowering the amount of allowable individual contributions to less than $100
  • Outlawing Ad Books
  • Prohibiting unlimited organizational expenditures by State Central Committees
  • Increasing disclosure information requirements

In other words, identify and plug the most awful and obvious loopholes. These are viable, cost effective, common sense measures that will go a long way toward ensuring that our State continues to be “the land of steady habits”…where elected officials serve with both hands on the tiller and not in the till.

State Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149)

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