Shadowy group says it will spend millions on Connecticut elections

“Shadowy group says it will spend millions on Connecticut elections”

Hartford Courant
Aug. 14, 2010

With Connecticut’s gubernatorial and state legislative elections less than three months away, a shadowy group is promising to spend millions of dollars from undisclosed contributors this fall in an effort to influence the state’s elections.

The shady group, which calls itself “The State of Connecticut,” has pledged to spend as much as $46 million this cycle.

“This is a flagrant, outrageous violation of the spirit of Connecticut’s law,” said Washington, D.C. lobbyist Fred Wertheimer of the reform group Democracy 21. “Nobody knows where this money is coming from. It’s time for Connecticut to pass real reform and require the disclosure of who is really behind the big money in campaigns.” 

But campaign finance experts say there isn’t enough time for the state to do anything this cycle.

“The Supreme Court has held that states can spend money to influence elections,” said lobbyist Craig Holman of the reform group Public Citizen. “Unfortunately, Connecticut’s law doesn’t require the disclosure of the original source of the money. All that is disclosed is the name of the group doing the spending—in this case, the State of Connecticut. But we don’t know where the money really comes from. Who is really contributing these so-called tax dollars? How much of it comes from insurance company executives and Fortune 500 bigwigs in Stamford? How much comes from employees of United Technologies, Xerox, General Electric, and other special interests that already dominate Connecticut, making it such a horrible place to live? What is this group’s real agenda? We don’t know.”

While the exact funders supplying the State of Connecticut’s warchest are not publicly disclosed, public documents show that the group is headed by M. Jodi Rell, a onetime Republican state representative who serves as the mysterious organization’s “Governor.” Before Rell, the organization was headed by a prominent Republican political operative and Rell associate, John Rowland, who pled guilty in 2004 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tax fraud. Rell has predictably sought to distance herself from Rowland and claims, “I am opposed to this type of crazy, undisclosed spending in state elections.” However, the Courant has learned that her organization is definitely planning to spend the money, including as much as $6 million to support the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Malloy.

Prof. Richard Hasen, an election law specialist at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says that without information on the persons funding the ads, “the public is in no posiition to judge the validity of the message. Voters are left with nothing but their own judgment to rely upon in evaluting the message. That’s clearly not enough.”

But Sean Parnell, President of the Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative front group that opposes political reform, disagrees, arguing that having big money poured into campaigns for negative ads by shadowy, unaccountable groups isn’t a problem. “I disagree,” said Parnell. 

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the thoroughly non-partisan reform group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), says that the problems with Connecticut laws go far beyond the lack of adequate disclosure. “Any group  can freely break campaign finance laws to gain an edge in a Connecticut election without any fear of repercussions,” say Sloan.

“Connecticut’s laws are badly broken and in need of reform,” said the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at the presitigious NYU Law School.

Meanwhile, Connecticut residents can expect all this hidden source cash to fund a deluge of negative advertising this fall.

“There’s no accountability whatsoever,” says Wertheimer. “It’s outrageous! We call on Connecticut to enact real disclosure reform now.”

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.