A bill passed by the State House of Representatives late Thursday night would put new restrictions on public money used in campaigns.
In an overwhelming gesture of bi-partisanship, House Republicans and Democrats passed a sweeping elections reform bill by a vote of 134-to-12.
Elements of the bill include cutting the grant amount for candidates participating in the publicly funded Clean Elections Program by 25-percent, it eliminates taxpayer grants for candidates running unopposed, limits the total amount of money a legislator or their relatives can make off campaign-related businesses, like consulting. It also caps the amount of money a state party can spend on a candidate.
House GOP Minority Leader Themis Klarides called it one of the “biggest nights” in the building.
“Although we don’t agree with everything, nor will we ever, we respect each others' opinions,” Klarides said of how House Republicans and Democrats came together. “We’re not afraid to step over that line when we know it’s the right thing to do.”
It comes just a week after a NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigation found nearly half of the money granted to Democratic State Senate and House candidates went to just four consulting companies.
CCM & Co is one of the those companies. It’s a consulting and direct mail firm run by a former legislative aide. It took in nearly $1 million in business in 2014 alone.
Then-sitting State Representative Geoff Luxenberg, in partnership with Michael Farina of Farina Consulting, was contracted to do more than $800,000 in business for taxpayer funded campaigns. Luxenberg decided not to seek re-election in 2014. His wife Kelly won the seat.
Companies owned by the son and daughter-in-law of State Senator Terry Gerratana did more than $1 million in business since the Clean Election Program was first implemented in 2008.
If this bill is passed by the Senate, it would restrict the amount legislators or their families can take in to $1,000.
GOP rank and file joined leadership at press conference at the Capitol on Friday.
They called for the senate to pass this legislation to “restore the public’s faith” in elections and elected officials.
GOP Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano praised the House for their vote and called on Senate Democrats to join the other three legislative chambers in supporting the sweeping reform bill.
“It brought it (Clean Elections Program) back to where it should be,” said Fasano. “That’s because the Republican House worked with the Democratic House to do what is right.”
Even though three of the four legislative caucuses support the bill, Senate Democrats are hedging on supporting it.
Spokesman Adam Joseph said in a statement:
“We have major concerns with the bill as drafted, not the least of which is that it fails to increase transparency and does nothing to stem the flow of dark money into the process.”
Without the support from the majority party in the Senate, it's possible the bill won't even be called for a vote.
House Democrats would only say “the bill passed with the Speakers support.”
Last month, former House GOP Chief of Staff George Gallo pleaded guilty to federal charges he accepted kickbacks for steering candidates to send taxpayer funded grants to a direct mail firm in Florida.
The hours left in the session are counting down. It all comes to an end on June 3.