Reasoned veto

A well intentioned but overly broad state bill, which would have intruded on legitimate free speech rights in the name of campaign finance disclosure, received a well deserved gubernatorial veto last week.

The Connecticut General Assembly approved the bill with the intent of blunting the influence of the U.S. Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision, a ruling this newspaper has repeatedly criticized for virtually lifting all restrictions on the influence of corporate and special interest money in elections.

But in an attempt to require the disclosure of the sources of all independent campaign expenditures within 90 days of an election, the legislation used such broad language that it could apply to almost any communication involving a public office, even communication with no intent to influence the election.

For example, it would have made the airing and promotion of candidate debates by newspapers, TV stations and radio subject to onerous disclosure requirements about the finances of the news organizations. Likewise environmental or business groups speaking about elected officials or issues would have to disclose names of major contributors.

"The provisions of this bill fail to distinguish wholly innocuous and encouraged civic activity from the activity this bill should have focused on, producing an effect that extends well beyond promoting campaign finance transparency,'' wrote Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his veto message.

The governor is an advocate for greater disclosure of information about organizations trying to manipulate elections, as is this newspaper. But the legislature, and more precisely the Democratic majority, needs to do a better job of balancing the need for disclosure with the constitutional requirement to protect free speech.

Diverse groups, including the ACLU of Connecticut, the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposed the bill because of the constitutional concerns it raised.

In the next regular session, the Malloy administration should work with legislative leaders to get it right.

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