This article originally provided by The New York Times

December 2, 2005

New York Times

It Takes a Statehouse Scandal

Galvanized by the imprisonment of a disgraced governor, the Connecticut Legislature has become the first in the nation to set campaign finance restrictions on its own initiative, including a ban on donations from lobbyists and state contractors. The extraordinary reform not only takes aim at the corrosive power of special interest money, but also creates the first statewide system set up by a legislature to provide voluntary public financing of campaigns. The commendable result is an instant model for other statehouses where incumbents have long shown meager impulse to bite any insider's hand that feeds them.

Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican, would not take no for an answer and called the Legislature into special session, where Democratic majorities matched her eagerness to display reform before a jaded electorate. The urgency was understandable, considering that Governor Rell ascended to the job only after seeing her running mate, John Rowland, deposed as governor in a political corruption scandal last year.

The final compromise is not perfect, and lawsuits are promised over the free-speech rights of the lobbyists now enjoying sotto voce speech within the Statehouse's inner sanctums. But Connecticut's lawmakers should feel proud. The new rules will in fact create more competition in their own districts, where incumbents are now entrenched with the help of big-money donors. The legislative leaders' political action kitties will be crimped. Business interests shopping for political influence will no longer be able to buy expensive ads in campaign brochures.

The first test comes in the 2008 election cycle, when qualified gubernatorial candidates in the general election will each receive up to $3 million from the public finance system in return for accepting spending limitations. Also in the general election, legislative hopefuls will get up to $25,000 each. And the people of Connecticut will be able to console themselves with the thought that something very good has come from the blatant corruption that shook this reform loose from the Statehouse.


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