Former Gov. Rell Lacks Any Credibility to Criticize on Campaign Finance Reform

Former Gov. Jodi Rell may very well be looking to be a factor in the race for governor in 2014. She barely engaged the legislature in her six years as governor choosing “reading days” in Brookfield over the back and forth that takes place at the state Capitol. Yet Rell felt compelled to pen a letter to the editors of the state’s daily newspapers this week wagging her finger at the legislature for its adjusting of the state’s campaign finance laws. Of course, it takes some revisionist history for her to have any credibility on the issue.

In her letter, Rell says of the campaign finance reform (CFR) law passed when she was governor, “I am proud to have sponsored and signed into law these changes.” Please. It’s may be technically true that she signed the Clean Elections bill but she had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to do so. In fact, she was staunchly opposed to public financing—the centerpiece of the bill—and vetoed the first CFR that came her way.

The Shad knows how it all went down because I was there as communications director for the Senate Democrats. Here’s what really happened: When the 2005 regular legislative session failed to produce a CFR law, Gov. Rell was not only culpable, her actions called into question whether she ever really wanted a bill that included public financing.

On April 1 of that year, Rell called the House and Senate campaign finance reform plans — both including public financing — “a sham.” On June 2, she did her first 180-degree reversal by fully endorsing public financing. On June 6, she proposed 2010 as the year that the public financing take full effect. On June 7, when it became clear the Senate would step up to the plate with a public-financing bill that would pass, the governor said she would veto the bill. When a reporter asked Rell how she felt about the Senate bill, which would not institute full public financing of campaigns until 2010, she said, “Why don’t we just make it 2025? The bill is not acceptable. It is not real reform.”

She therefore based her veto of the first CFR bill on the fact the Senate bill used 2010 as the full effective date — the same date she herself proposed just a day before. It was an absolute nightmare trying to get Rell to go along with any CFR.

The truth is the driving force behind CFR was then-state Sen. Don DeFronzo who was the chairman of the government administration and elections committee (he is now Gov. Malloy’s commissioner of the department of administrative services). It was his calm, level-headed and brilliant approach that resulted in the new law.

So why would Rell weigh in on this subject? Why now? To this point, she has been unengaged in politics except for some token endorsements for Republicans such as US Senate candidate Linda McMahon.

The answer may very well be that she wants to be a factor in the 2014 gubernatorial race in which Gov. Dannel Malloy will seek reelection and will be challenged by someone from the ranks of Tom Foley, John McKinney, Larry Cafero or Mark Boughton. The guess here is that she backs Boughton. Foley has stumbled badly so far and she likely won’t back a member of the legislature—that would disqualify McKinney and Cafero.

Rell and Boughton are tight. Not only are they neighbors from Danbury and Brookfield respectively, they have talked about a possible Boughton run. Rell was lieutenant governor when Boughton was a state representative.

In fairness, the influential Republicans I spoke with say Rell’s letter was genuine and not motivated by a desire to return to the political arena even if it’s in a role in which she can just sit back and pontificate (she would probably prefer that role than being governor). The cynic in me—and that’s not insignificant—doesn’t buy it.

In respect to the changes made in the laws this past session, it’s a reasonable response to the US Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision that allows outside groups or individuals to come into Connecticut and dump unlimited amounts of money into legislative and statewide elections. Democrats got a taste of that last November when outside forces bought last-minute, negative advertising. All the incumbent lawmakers who were targeted won but the outside money was enough to scare majority Democrats into leveling the playing field. You play by the rules that have been set.

Rell was elevated to governor when then-Gov. John Rowland—her “old friend” and partner in government—was sent to the hoosegow for corruption. She was reelected in her own right after the people of Connecticut actually bought the line that she knew nothing of her partner’s shenanigans.

The people of the state should not be hoodwinked into believing the nonsense that Rell somehow owns the original, historic campaign finance reform laws.