Connecticut state law prohibits registered lobbyists from contributing more than $100 to any candidate participating in the state’s Citizens’ Election Program. A gubernatorial candidate who violates that law would be prohibited from getting the $6.5 million grant in public funds that comes with Connecticut’s “Clean Election program.”
However, tomorrow – January 7, 2015 – when Governor Dannel Malloy is sworn into office for a second term, there will be nearly sixty registered lobbyists in the Capitol beaming with pride that they were able to funnel more than $95,000 to help fund Malloy’s re-election effort.
The fact is that some of these lobbyists donated well over $5,000, even $10,000, to help cover some of the governor’s recent campaign expenses.
How did Malloy and the lobbyists do it?
In the closing weeks of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, the Malloy campaign sent out a series of direct mail pieces that were aimed at winning back the support of Democratic households.
Like any candidate mailing, the pieces featured pictures and quotes from the candidate, including lines like, “DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR DAN MALLOY HAS PUT US ON A PATH OF PROGRESS,” and “On November 4th, Vote for Progress, Dan Malloy for Governor.”
But the pieces weren’t paid for by Dan Malloy’s campaign committee, even though they featured Malloy and included his campaign website, Facebook and Twitter Account.
The money for the mailings came out of the Democratic State Central Committee’s “Federal Account.”
Last summer, Malloy and his campaign committee collected and cashed the $6.5 million check they received from the State Elections Enforcement Commission for agreeing to participate and abide by Connecticut’s public financing system. The campaign committee used those funds to pay for television ads and a variety of other campaign expenses.
During the last two years, however, Malloy’s fundraising operation also collected just over $5.1 million for the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee’s “Federal Account.”
Under Federal law, the Democratic Party is allowed two accounts.
A “State Account” that is used to pay for state and local level campaign activities and the other, called the “Federal Account,” which is supposed to be used to support candidates who are running for federal offices and for other “party building activities.”
Of the $5.1 million raised into the “Federal Account” during 2013-2014, a significant portion came from Connecticut lobbyists, state contractors, political action committees and large donors who had directly benefited from Malloy’s corporate welfare program.
By depositing the funds into the Democratic Party’s “Federal Account,” the Malloy campaign claimed that it could legally circumvent the state law that clearly prohibits large contributions from lobbyists and those who do business with the state.
Whether the maneuver was illegal has yet to be determined.
The repercussions from the Malloy campaign’s antics will be play out as the State Elections Enforcement Commission and the Federal Elections Commission investigate the issues and potentially take action against the abuses.
But one thing is certain.
When Malloy was facing possible defeat and public opinion polls indicated that a majority of Connecticut residents didn’t like the governor or approve of the way he was doing his job, a group of generous lobbyists and state contractors came through with the money Malloy needed to fund various political operations including a series of campaign mailings aimed at persuading Democrats to cast their vote for Malloy.
The sad reality is that the political landscape has changed significantly since Connecticut adopted its landmark 2005 campaign finance reform legislation.
The original concept, which passed following the first conviction of Governor John Rowland in 2005, was that in return for a multi-million dollar grant in public funds, gubernatorial candidates would agree to forgo private funds raised from state contractors, lobbyists, political action committees, the wealthy and other special interests.
When the legislation passed, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan wrote,
“Almost 230 years ago, the founding fathers took a huge risk when they signed the Declaration of Independence and set the wheels in motion for the world’s greatest democracy. Today, this historic campaign finance reform legislation reaffirms that this is a government for the people, not special interests. This campaign finance reform bill is our declaration of independence. We can look our constituents in the eye and say we created the strongest campaign laws in the United States.”
At the same time, State Senator Don Williams changed his official biography to read,
“Since his election as Senate President, Senator Williams has been a leading advocate for cleaning up government. He authored legislation to reform the State Ethics Commission and supported sweeping changes to the campaign finance system and the state contracting process. With the creation of a publicly funded campaign finance system in 2005, Connecticut now has the strongest reform laws in the nation.”
Even Governor Malloy claimed allegiance to Connecticut’s campaign finance law, telling Connecticut Magazine in 2011, “Quite frankly, anyone who is not willing to participate [in Connecticut’s campaign finance program] is really just attacking the system.”
When writing about Malloy’s first year in office, The American Prospect magazine observed,
“[T]he secret behind the Democrats’ success was sweeping campaign-finance reform enacted six years earlier. Reeling from the embarrassment of a corruption scandal that landed a governor in federal prison, Connecticut legislators grabbed the national spotlight in 2005 by stopping the flow of millions of special-interest dollars, banning lobbyist contributions, and instituting a public-financing system that record-setting numbers of candidates have embraced.”
But all that was before Malloy and the Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly torpedoed many of the most important elements of the law over the past three years.
So, while Malloy swore off special interest money in his 2010 campaign, he embraced the tainted funds in 2014.
The final campaign finance reports have yet to be filed, but according to the reports that are available, at least 58 Connecticut lobbyists or their spouses donated a total of more than $95,000 to the Connecticut Democrats “Federal Account” during the 2014 campaign cycle.
At least four lobbyists donated in excess of $5,000 including Craig LeRoy and Tom Ritter, and about a dozen more helped Malloy’s campaign by donating at least $2,000 to the Democrats’ “Federal Account”.
Even lobbyist David O’Leary, who served as disgraced Governor John Rowland’s former chief of staff, kicked in $250 to the effort.
As disturbing as the lobbyist money is, just wait till you see what political action committees, state contractors and those who have benefited from Malloy’s corporate welfare program kicked into Malloy’s campaign operation.