Legislative Solutions Under Consideration in 2017:
PROTECTING THE CITIZEN’S ELECTION PROGRAM: CCAG was instrumental in establishing our landmark Clean Elections Program (publicly-owned elections). 2017 will include protecting the system from being overwhelmed by independent expenditures.
DEMOCRACY: CCAG supports several bills that align CT with adopting the national popular vote as binding in Presidential elections, including HB5205, HB5434, HB5435, and SB9. CCAG opposes bills that entrench the current electoral college system: SB108, SB133, and SJ11. We also think HB6575 is very important, aligning CT with a requirement that Presidential candidates disclose their tax returns.
National Issue: Money In Politics.
President-Elect Trump's nominees for cabinet positions are riven with conflicts of interest at an unprecedented level. Between Mr. Trump's own unresolved conflicts of interest and the waterfall of problems associated with virtually each nominee, the vetting system may be overwhelmed. Indeed, skirting traditional vetting appears to be the actual strategy of the incoming Administration. Recently, CCAG signed on to a specific effort to fight the Betsy DeVos nomination to head the Department of Education. Her record is one of DISMANTLING public education iin favor of privatized education. That alone should disqualify her. A second line of opposition, which we focus on here, is based on her own substantial "donations" to many of the Senators who will decide whether or not she wins that position. See below for the text of the letter to be sent to Senate Committee members, along with a list of her conflict-of-interest "pay-to-play" contributions to many of the Senators who will make the ultimate decision.
The working draft of the letter to the conflicted Senators (asking them to recuse themselves from considering her as the nominee) is below. Feel free to contact us with comments.
Dear Senator X,
We are calling on you, recipients of campaign contributions from Betsy DeVos, to recuse yourself from voting on President-Elect Donald Trump's nomination of Ms. DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. As a body entrusted with vetting this nominee and examining her views on public policy, the Senate must uphold the strongest ethical standards throughout the nomination process. As past recipients of contributions from DeVos, you must recuse yourself from her nomination, or risk imperiling the legitimacy of DeVos's confirmation.
Ms. DeVos once wrote, "I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return."
Betsy DeVos and her family have made nearly $1 million in campaign contributions to 21 US Senators who will have the opportunity to consider her nomination. In addition to these individual campaign contributions, DeVos and her family contributed $2.25M during the Fall campaign to the Senate Leadership Fund, and have also given $900,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. That comes out to $4M to influence you.
Of special concern is the fact that DeVos and her family have given a quarter-million dollars in contributions to five members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), who are tasked with vetting her nomination and will hold her confirmation hearing Wednesday. Senator Bill Cassidy received $70,000, Senator Tim Scott and Senator Todd Young have each received close to $50,000, and Senators Richard Burr nad Lisa Murkowski each received $43,000.
The plentiful contributions to many Senators, combined with Ms. DeVos's past statements, make it appear that DeVos expects your vote in exchange for her past financial support. This kind of pay-to-play, whether explicit or implied, cannot stand in the US Senate. No one among the 21 Senators to whom Ms. DeVos has contributed can make an unbiased decisions about whether or not she is well-suited to protect the interests of America's 56 million school children.
DeVos's confirmation process must include fair and thorough evaluation of her merits by participating Senators. As a past recipient of campaign contributions from Ms. DeVos, this cannot be achieved unless you recuse yourself from this process. We urge you to do so.
Her relevant campaign contributions include these Senators:
Blunt, Roy $33,100
Burr, Richard $43,200
Cassidy, William $70,200
Cotton, Thomas $26,000
Daines, Steven $46,800
Gardner, Cory $49,800
Grassley, Charles $21,600
Johnson, Ronald $48,600
McCain, John $50,600
McConnell, Mitch $36,400
Murkowski, Lisa $43,200
Perdue, David $23,400
Portman, Rob $51,000
Rounds, Marion $46,800
Rubio, Marco $98,300
Scott, Timothy $49,200
Sullivan, Dan $23,400
Thune, John $17,500
Tillis, Thom $70,200
Toomey, Patrick $60,050
Young, Todd $48,600
Total $957,950 ($254,400 directly to HELP Committee Senators!)
Legislative solutions considered in 2016:
HB 5511, AN ACT CONCERNING DISCLOSURE OF COORDINATED AND INDEPENDENT SPENDING IN CAMPAIGN FINANCE:
This bill passed the House, only to die waiting on the Senate Calendar to be called for a vote. Connecticut, due in large part to the work of the Government Administration And Elections committee over many years, has arguably the best campaign finance system in the country. But an activist Supreme Court has weakened some of our laws. New avenues have opened for moneyed interests to exert undue electoral influence. Proposed improvements in this bill tighten up disclosure and regulation of independent expenditures.
SB 342, An Act Concerning Electronic Filing of Campaign Reports: The bill passed! It requires electronic filing of campaign finance disclosure statements with the State Elections Enforcement Commission for certain committees that raise or spend one thousand dollars or more, with several weakening exceptions that may or may not be abused in the future (and thus bear scrutiny.)
Budget Threat Averted: As often happens in deficit years, an attempt was made to raid the Clean Elections Fund. This is the heart of CT's publicly funded election system, which CCAG believes is the best in the nation. CCAG worked tirelessly behind the scenes, with its allies, to stop this penny-wise and pound-foolish attempted raid.
Organizing, education, and monitoring goals in 2016:
Democracy Spring: CCAG went to Washington D.C. and joined with hundreds of national groups from across the country in calling for the end of big money in politics. CCAG Director Tom Swan joined the likes of Mark Ruffalo and Noam Chomsky in publicly endorsing and assisting with the event. Only public oversight and control of campaign funding can ensure that every American has equal access to our democracy. Find out more about Democracy Spring, a national week of civil disobedience that took place during the week of April 11th-16th. Visit www.democracyspring.org for details on how it was structured and what you might do to end the domination by concentrated private wealth over our national election system.
Issue background, relevant reports, and related news:
The $64,000 Democracy For All Video Challenge was a contest tapping the creative potential of Americans across all political stripes with short, powerful videos in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United and get big money out of politics. The contest launched August 12, 2015 and ended December 2, with final round winners on February 2, 2016, and the grand prize winner announced on February 2, 2016 . You can watch all the winning videos here. Click here for the contest's complete original website.
From the 2015 legislative session:
Substitute for Raised S.B. No. 1126 AAC Revisions to Campaign Finance Laws:
2015's campaign finance bill had several important provisions. Dark money coming in to support or oppose Connecticut candidates would have been subject to disclosure. The bill would have closed loopholes and required outside groups to reveal all funding source for campaign-related expenditures, whether direct or through intermediaries (a current masking strategy).
Specifically it required disclosure not only of the top five donors to any entity making independent expenditures, but also the top five donors to those organizations included in the top five original donors.
- the bill would have capped the amount of organizational expenditures a state central party can spend on a candidate at $250,000, which had been made unlimited in 2013
- clarified the use of the word "candidate" to include incumbents and individuals who eventually run for office, meaning that illegal coordination may occur even before the individual is registered as a candidate (for example someone with an exploratory committee would be considered a candidate)
- would have increased PAC registration rules to include the name of an individual establishing a PAC as well as anyone acting on his or her behalf
- increased the maximum penalty for failing to file campaign expenditure reports