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History was made at 2:45am, EST, this morning, when the Connecticut House joined the Senate in passing a comprehensive campaign reform bill that will establish full public financing of campaigns for all state offices. A coalition led by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and supported by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Public Campaign, and many other groups, kept the heat on all sides and got the legislature to do the right thing. The bill now goes to Governor Jodi Rell, who has said she will sign it.

How did this happen? And what lessons should we learn from this victory?

Here's the story from Nick Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign, the national organizing center for public financing of elections. (I'm quoting from his post over at TPMCafe; no one has gotten much sleep, so forgive the cross-posting.):

Late last night, Connecticut's General Assembly became the first such body in the country to adopt a comprehensive public financing measure. There were a number of important reasons for its breakthrough passage. But in today's national political environment one stands out.

For several years, Connecticut has reeled from constant headlines about political scandal and corruption, capped by the nexus of dirty dealing that ultimately drove Governor John Rowland from office and into jail. Ugly stories of conflict of interest, political payoffs, and arrogance of power. Political underlings have turned state's evidence, leading to indictments, and then to guilty pleadings and convictions. Public official perp walks, lawmakers behind bars - the political news turned into Court TV.

Now, a fed-up public, constant grassroots pressure, steady coalition-building and skillful organizing have produced in real change: There's a reform victory that will allow good people to run for office competitively relying on small contributors and without courting wealthy donors. It will cut the campaign finance cord (some would say leash) between the big lobbying combines and the legislators they do business with.  

The same story arc is beginning in Washington, DC. Former Rep. Duke Cunningham pled guilty to $2.4 million in bribes, and resigned in disgrace. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been indicted for criminal money laundering and conspiracy. His former spokesman, Michael Scanlon, has pled guilty to bribing Rep. Bob Ney and has implicated already indicted uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Rep. William Jefferson has had his home raided by the FBI in connection to another bribery scandal.

Exactly where these stories go, nobody knows for sure. But the reality is, these are the stories that normally unfold relatively slowly. The Washington Post estimated that 40 prosecutors and investigators are looking into the relationships between Abramoff, Scanlon, and at least six members of Congress. Subpoenas will lead to grand jury appearances. Squeezed witnesses will generate new rounds of allegations. Testimony under oath will result in new indictments. Indictments lead to pre-trial hearings accompanied by bombastic claims of innocence by highly-priced and well-coifed criminal defense attorneys. And so on.

That's a pretty clear forecast for a reform-ripe political climate in 2006 and, most likely, the next couple of years as well. So what can reform-minded folk do? A few suggestions:

    * Lay bold solutions on the table -they're more likely to mobilize the public and make a real difference when enacted.
    * Make public financing programs that increase the power of ordinary voters part of the policy debate now, even if passage isn't right around the corner.
    * Slice the financial links between lobbyists and lawmakers, starting with the campaign check-writing and bundling of client checks.
    *  Take these issues into the middle of the election cycles in 2006 and 2008. Reform groups have been notoriously shy about inserting themselves into the political to-and-froing during campaign season, but it is instructive that Connecticut reformers injected pay-to-play corruption into political campaigns and came away with increased clout for the long legislative battle that resulted in last night's victory.
    * Finally, take strategic victories where they can be found - at the state and municipal level - that make meaningful changes in politics and give hope for bigger things to come.

Originally posted to Micah Sifry on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 09:51 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Disappointed (none)
    Big disappointment. When I saw the thread header I thought somebody was challenging Lieberman in Connecticut.
  •  not necessarily a win (none)
    This thing was rushed through debate (full text of bill wasn't available until yesterday), and some of the consequences (intended or not) are bad, via the Courant:
    Petitioning and third-party candidates face significant, if not impossible hurdles to qualifying for a full grant. The bill requires them to collect signatures from 20 percent of all voters.

    House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford, said Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who was elected governor as a third-party candidate, would have needed 200,000 signatures to obtain public financing.

    "If you are afraid the Green Party will beat you, vote for the bill," Ward said during the House debate.

    •  Re: Sorry, no tears (3.00)
      Sorry, but I'm not going to shed a lot of tears for 3rd Parties. After 2000 (Thanks, Ralph), I couldn't care less. Reform is coming through the Democratic Party, not through vanity campaigns.
    •  Some statutory limits (none)
      have to placed on who can obtain public financing. Perhaps 20% of all voters is too high a number (10% seems more reasonable), but some restraints are necessary to ensure that candidates have some basis of support before getting free money.

      As a general metter, though, this seems like a significant story -- public financing is probably the only realistic way to truly lessen the impact of money on elections. CT's law may not be perfect, but it gets the ball rolling.

      Democrats will fight for a Renewed Deal with the American people.

      by Hoyapaul on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 09:59:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I am glad there is some sort of standard (none)
      I do think that percentage is too high.  But then again is is not much different than the one which needs to be met by primary challengers to the chosen democratic or republican candidate here in Pa.  200,000 should be posible if the candidate has enough support.  Otherwise their candidacy is nothing more than a useless expense.
      •  in comparison (none)
        To get on the Pennsylvania general election ballot, you needed around 25,000 signatures in 2004, either for the U.S. Senate race or for Nader to make the Presidential ballot.  (I believe the number is calculated as something like two percent of the highest vote getter's total in the 2004 election for each office. )
    •  Wer worked very hard here in CT (none)
      to get this bill passed and although it ain't perfect it's a good bill.

      Congrats are due to many progressive organizations in this state.Many of their leaders are also fervant readers(some even post) here.

      You know who you are and our state owes you a great deal.THANK YOU ALL!!

      by ctkeith on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 10:06:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  too high (none)
      The 20% threshold is absurd considering that most candidates from major parties only get about 26% of all voters at the polls when they win the election (52% of the 50% that vote).
      For those of us who are quite tired of having only two choices this reform is only modestly good news.
      •  no argument from me on that point (none)
        we got what was possible.Getting incumbents to vote against what they consider their best interests ain't easy.Ct is the only state that got publicly funded campaigns through it's legislative process.This law is HUGE.

        by ctkeith on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 11:33:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  does this include federal senate and congressional (none)
    races? If not why not?
    •  No, it's only state campaigns (none)
      Alas, Congress sets the rules for its own elections. But the states have always been laboratories for democracy. Women's suffrage began in a few frontier states, remember.

      I know many Kossacks are primarily interested in federal campaigns, but don't forget--those candidates for federal office start out as state legislators. Like Arizona and Maine, which already have Clean Elections for state offices (and large numbers of participating candidates), what just happened in Connecticut is part of a larger and deeper push to change the relationship between money, voters and power.

  •  so proud of my home state! (none)
    The way I see it, you can either get your citizens tied into a knot over a slab of rock with the 10 Commandments; or you can engage citizens in something constructive that may just deter politicians from breaking many of those commandments... I prefer the latter, CT approach.
  •  Does this prevent 501s from participating? (none)
    If out-of-state 501s start running push polls, distributing 'hate' pamphlets, screwing with the voter registration process, and buying airtime to disparage one candidate, does this law impose sanctions of any kind? If it doesn't, you may see a massive increase in these tactics from the Rethugs.
    •  Matching funds to deal with IEs (none)
      The CT law does give participating candidates extra matching funds (up to 2X the original public grant) if their opponent is non-participating and spends over the basic public grant, or if they are targeted by independent expenditures (I assume that's what you mean by "501s"--you mean 527s, and these can also come from PACs).

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