From the Capitol / State Rep. John Hetherington
The Ides of August
The 13th day of August (not the 15th) is the Ides of August by the ancient Roman calendar. OK, that's a reach. But add in the fact that Aug. 13, 2010 was Friday the 13th. That might have caused some to be wary. They would have had good reason.
A session of the Connecticut House of Representatives was called on Aug. 13 to override Gov. Rell's veto of Senate Bill 551. The override was done, and SB 551 is now law. I believe that is unfortunate, because: 1) it gives away an additional $3 million of public money when our state is already $60 million in the red just seven weeks into the new fiscal year; and 2) the way the bill became law suggests an intention to fund the Democrat candidate for governor. I take no partisan satisfaction in this report, but I offer the record for your consideration.
SB 551 came about following a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on July 13. The ruling held parts of Connecticut's 2005 campaign finance law to be unconstitutional, including an important provision of the Citizen's Election Program (CEP). The appellate court agreed with a lower court in finding that additional grants to candidates triggered by an opponent's spending violates the Constitution.
Following this decision by the Second Circuit, the Legislature was summoned to special session on July 30, and members received "Emergency Certified" SB 551. By certifying the bill to be of an emergency nature, no committee screening or public hearing was allowed.
A primary feature of the law awards an extra $3 million of public funds right away to a candidate for governor. Just a candidate for governor. Not any other candidate for statewide office or any candidate for the legislature receives a bonus. SB 551 passed both the House and Senate on July 30 and was vetoed by the Governor on Aug. 2. The Senate met on Aug. 5 and re-passed 551 over the Governor's veto. But what about the House?
As it happens, on Aug. 5 there was one Democrat and one Republican candidate for governor who were CEP participants and therefore eligible to receive grants. Their respective opponents were relying on contributions or personal funds.
Then there was the primary on Aug. 10, which left Democrat Dan Malloy as the only CEP candidate for governor and therefore the only possible recipient of the extra $3 million.
After the returns were in, the House was immediately called into session on Aug. 13 and the override was carried with 106 votes, five more than the 101 votes needed to constitute two-thirds. It was a straight party-line vote, except for Democrat Shawn Johnston of Thompson who was recorded in the negative. Eleven Democrats flipped from NO on July 30 to YES on Aug. 13. Several rose to emphatically deny they had been pressured. No one I heard said that they had been pressured. Those were awkward moments indeed.
It should be noted as well that SB 551 puts a severability clause in our campaign reform law so that the invalidation of one section by a court would not blow-up the entire law. But this protection is not necessary. The Connecticut General Statutes already have a general severability provision that applies to save all legislation from possible judicial decisions of mass destruction. Moreover, the Legislature actually met on Dec. 21, 2009 expressly to fix this exact problem, and then adjourned claiming it was fixed. Accordingly, no further action was needed following the Second Circuit ruling.
The passage of SB 551 can only fuel the disenchantment people feel for politicians generally. It hurts all of us and is not an achievement of which we can be proud.
State Rep. John W. Hetherington (R-125) represents most of New Canaan and the western portion of Wilton.