The Audacity of Rell’s Revisionist History

One would think that someone who was smack dab in the middle of the worst corruption scandal in Connecticut’s history but somehow skated on it would never mention it again—never reference it, allude to it, or otherwise acknowledge it. Not so with former Gov. Jodi Rell. Mrs. Rell decided to weigh in on ongoing budget talks when the state’s public campaign financing system appeared to be in jeopardy. Her revisionist history is as insulting as it as “bold.”

This past week, legislative Democrats, Republicans and the Malloy administration were trying to sort out competing plans to deal with the state’s budget deficit. Under serious consideration was the “suspension” (the Democratic leadership’s plan) for one year the state’s public campaign financing program, the Citizens Clean Election Fund. Good government folks as well as rank and file Democrats, particularly in the House, revolted. Democrats dropped the idea.

In a highly unusual and ill-advised move, Gov. Rell issued a statement on the idea of dropping the Citizens Elections Program. “I am profoundly disappointed that legislative Democrats would turn aside, through budget cuts, the public campaign financing program many of us worked so hard to put in place to prevent political corruption scandals.” I believe the “profoundly disappointed” part—she was that for her entire 6 ½ years as governor. The rest, not so much.

Yes, she signed the bill that put in place the state’s system of public financing for campaign. But the truth is, Gov. Rell fought anti-corruption measures at just about every turn.

In 2005, the General Assembly passed a “clean contracting” bill that would have provided oversight to the state contracting system. Many of the Rowland scandals pertained to state contractors, their gifts and other favors (the notorious Rowland Bantam Lake cottage hot tub and other improvements were from a state contractor). Gov. Rell vetoed the bill after a campaign of misinformation by her staff failed to stop the legislature from acting.

When the General Assembly passed the state’s system of publicly financed campaigns in 2005, it did so only after multiple veto threats—mostly in private—from Rell (or in reality, Rell’s chief of staff Lisa Moody).

In 2009, a federal appeals struck down part of the landmark law. The General Assembly passed a measure to “fix” the law so it would comply with the court’s ruling. Rell vetoed it. Why? She said it cost too much. This same former Gov. Rell, who is now objecting to the thought of suspending the clean elections program for budgetary reasons, vetoed a measure to make the original law constitutional for exactly that reason. The legislature overrode her veto back then and the law was fixed.

Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell (left) and Gov. John Rowlaand
Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell (left) and Gov. John Rowland

Rell’s statement Thursday also referenced the corruption of then-Gov. John Rowland, the result of which was the original campaign finance reform law. “We passed these strong campaign reform measures following a dark period in our state’s history in 2003 and 2004.” Um, right.

Then-Lt. Gov. Rell was right smack dab in the middle of these “dark days.” It’s understandable that she remembers them, she was there as the partner in government with Rowland.

Somehow, just what Rell knew about Rowland’s corruption and when she knew it, was never fully explored. She wasn’t John Rowland and that was enough of a qualification for her to be governor at the time. But now that we are years beyond the “dark days,” it seems reasonable to ask whether her Sargent Shultz act is believable. With her statement this past week, I would argue she opened the door.

Momentum of getting at the extent of the Rowland-Rell partnership never materialized. Among the multitude of issues the FBI investigated was the infamous green Mustang given to Rowland as a birthday present in 1999. The Hartford Courant’s sleuthing-reporting team of Dave Altimari, John Lender and Edmund Mahony wrote about it in January, 2004.

The FBI wanted to know where the money came from to pay for the refurbished car which was sitting in the Rell’s Brookfield garage at the time. It was thought that Rell headed the effort. But when questioned, she offered the under-oath-esque, “I honestly do not recall actually collecting any donations personally from people.” Um, yeah. Maybe it’s me but if I set about to collect money to refurbish an old Mustang that was taking up space in my garage so it could be given to my boss, I’d remember it.

All of this may be old news. However, it was Rell who referred to the events that led to the passing of campaign finance reform in Connecticut. With that, she invites scrutiny of her involvement in those events.