Malloy should veto law targeting debates

In election campaigns dominated by moneyed interests and misleading and downright dishonest advertisements, there is nothing quite as honest, straightforward and informative as candidate debates.

So our General Assembly has passed what is alleged to be campaign finance reform legislation that does nothing more than discourage, if not eliminate them.

A bill awaiting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's signature sets up roadblocks that transform a simple process of scheduling a debate and inviting participants into a procedural nightmare. The provisions in question are buried in a bill with various housekeeping measures of little significance, especially compared with the debate restrictions.

Let's say this newspaper joins with WTNH Channel 8, as it has often done in the past and hopes to again, to televise a debate for U.S. senator and invites the candidates for the office to appear and journalists from the two news organizations to ask the questions.

If the governor signs the bill, the news organizations would be required to calculate "the value of the debate" - i.e., set-up, airtime, advertising, etc. - coupled with the broadcasting of such debate as an "independent expenditure to be reported publicly."

If we read the bill correctly, the sponsors' boards of directors would need to vote to approve any expenditure of more than $4,000 involved in staging the debate. Each director's vote would also have to be disclosed.

Of course, no corporation's board makes it a practice to sign off on an expenditure that puny, something the mostly Democratic, 94 House members and 20 senators possibly didn't know. In addition, the debates usually generate no revenue for the sponsors, the air time is donated and the debaters and questioners work for free.

The bill's onerous and dumb requirements have inspired the opposition of such unlikely allies as the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union.

It is interesting that this legislation is the product of the same General Assembly being investigated by the FBI for alleged influence peddling. The finance director of House Speaker Chris Donovan's congressional campaign is accused of taking contributions from business owners affected by pending legislation and then disguising the donors' identity. The legislation never made it very far.

Gov. Malloy said the allegations like these "undermine citizens' belief in their government's ability to carry out its responsibilities."

He need only look at the campaign finance bill sitting on his desk to find another example.

We urge the governor to veto this poorly conceived legislation.

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