Ugly Citizens' outfall seen in Connecticut

The Connecticut gubernatorial campaign will be awash in outside money allowed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and inside money from contractors and others doing business with the state, which was, not long ago, the stuff of scandals, indictments and prison sentences.

With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's unannounced re-election campaign already receiving contributions, and with his opponent unknown and looser fund raising rules in effect, his party has collected twice as much as the opposition or about $1.2 million to $570,000, according to Federal Election Commission figures through October.

Donations from contractors and others with state business connections are apparently being aggressively pursued by the State Democratic Party. These donations are illegal under a state law passed in 2005 but legal under a 2002 federal law, which means the state prohibition is basically just for show.

And with the Democrats controlling the governor's office and the General Assembly, those getting state business know where to give and it's decidedly not to the party of Tom Foley and Linda McMahon.

The Connecticut Democratic and Republican Parties maintain separate state and national accounts to keep all contributions legal and Sen. John McKinney, the only declared Republican candidate for governor, says he has been told the Democratic Party has been actively encouraging and instructing contractors and the like on where and how to contribute to the governor's re-election.

James Hallinan, the Democratic Party spokesman, says everything is being done within the law and has refused to answer media questions about fund-raising strategy.

Sen. McKinney's information about the pursuit of contractor money was partly confirmed when an email from Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May urging NU executives to contribute to Gov. Malloy's re-election was leaked to The Hartford Courant. The email, which raised $46,500 from more than 20 top executives, directed them to "make contributions payable to: CT Democratic State Central Committee - Federal" for the governor, who "has shown decisive leadership and a keen ability to keep Connecticut moving forward."

An analysis of contributions by the online Connecticut Mirror - www.ctmirror.org - finds 30 percent of donations to that "CT Democratic State Central Committee - Federal" account came from contractors or others getting state funds. The contractors have given $150,000; state-regulated utilities, including NU, $54,000; state aid recipients, $61,000; nursing homes, $32,000 and lobbyists, $22,500.

The motivation for these contributions is no secret.

HAKS Group, an engineering and construction firm, gave $60,000 to the Democratic Party through seven of its executives and one of its owners. The Manhattan-based company did $22 million in business with the state in the past four years.

New Britain's Manafort Brothers, a prominent Republican donor in the Rowland years, continues to do business with the state and to respond with gratitude to the party in power. The company received $50 million for work on the Hartford-New Britain Busway and other transportation projects and two people named Manafort have given a total of $14,000 to the Democratic federal account.

The Democratic General Assembly, working with Gov. Malloy, further eased his way financially in June when it doubled the amount individuals can give to parties to $10,000. Although this change impacts both parties, the only $10,000 individual contribution to Republicans so far has come from wrestling mogul Vince McMahon, husband of two-time unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate Linda. The Democratic Party's federal account has received 34 of those $10,000 checks and its state account, nine, according to the CT Mirror.

Gubernatorial candidate McKinney believes that "Gov. Malloy, with the help of a Democratic legislature, weakened our campaign finance laws (and) opened up those laws to allow greater influence of special interest money," which is exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision did when it opened contribution floodgates by ruling wealthy individuals, corporations and unions could make unlimited political contributions, which they will do here next year.

Andrew Doba, the governor's spokesman, declined to engage in what he called a political debate with Sen. McKinney. Gov. Malloy has said changing the state law was made necessary by that Citizens United decision. The governor called it "fighting fire with fire."

Unfortunately, with special interests able to buy so much access and influence with big donations, it's ultimately the voter who gets burned by all this fire fighting.

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