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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Gov. Rell for Campaign Finance Reform

From the Hartford Courant
As Gov. M. Jodi Rell marked her first anniversary in office Friday, the state Republican Party aired ads touting progress on one of her original goals: comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform.

"The past year, we have set a new tone in Connecticut," Rell says in her radio commercial. "Faith and integrity in state government has been restored."


Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chairman, accused Rell of hypocrisy last week after the Republican Party paid to air the radio commercial celebrating Rell's anniversary.

Despite the lofty tone of the ad - "Civility has returned to our discussions," Rell says. "Pride in our state has returned" - DiNardo charges that it is pure politics.

The commercial was designed to "set up her run for governor in 2006," DiNardo said, and was paid for by money Rell solicited from lobbyists and state contractors on behalf of the Republican Party.

As evidence, DiNardo offered a solicitation letter Rell sent to GOP donors and her attendance at a Republican Party fundraiser in Greenwich in May. (Democrats acknowledge that both activities are legal and common fundraising techniques employed by both parties.)

Republican State Chairman William A. Hamzy said no lobbyist attended the fundraiser, though there is no prohibition on their giving, and the solicitation letter went to the party's 13,000-name base of past donors. Lobbyists and contractors may be on the list, but were not targeted, he said.


In her inaugural last July, Rell called for election and ethics reforms. She made specific proposals in January, demanding a ban on contributions by state contractors and lobbyists and tight restrictions on political action committees.

Democrats countered that only public financing could provide real reforms, though they focused initially only on statewide campaigns.

By late May, with the constitutional adjournment deadline of June 8 fast approaching, Rell and lawmakers were deadlocked.

Then the governor redefined the issue by agreeing to the public financing of all state campaigns - but only if lawmakers accepted restrictions on special-interest money in their campaigns.

The Senate and House quickly endorsed competing bills whose major difference was implementation dates. Instead of reconciling the differences, the two chambers simultaneously debated and passed the competing bills before dawn on June 8.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, immediately called for a special session on campaign reform, but Rell and House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, said a special session was unnecessary unless a working group could reach consensus.

Reform advocates are willing to settle for the working group convened by Rell, an act that keeps attention on the issue.

"There is no doubt that any number of people would love to see this working group peter away," said Tom Swan, the director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group. "But I think the governor has continued to elevate the importance of this issue to the point where being able to deliver on it has become more important."

"I also believe if she delivers, she will get the credit she deserves," Swan said. "If she doesn't, it is going to be hard to sustain the image of reformer over the next 18 months."
Gov. Rell has a tough road ahead and her relationships with lobbyists and contributions made to her office (e.g. the radio ad) will be questioned by the Democrats over the next eighteen months.