While Congress continues to stall on any meaningful reform this year (not a single Republican stepped up to vote for the DISCLOSE Act yesterday -- again), states are continuing to show themselves willing to step up and take corruption head on.
One success story can be found in Connecticut, where legislation in 2006 established a system of public financing in state campaigns. The state adopted far-sighted reforms to transform the way money and influence works in Connecticut politics.
Now six years old, the system has been put to the test in actual elections. And evidence is showing that it’s working.
The Hartford Courant editorialized on the success of Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program:
Connecticut's landmark 2006 campaign finance reform law is taking hold, the latest figures from the secretary of the state's office suggest.
It's a victory for cleaner politics and more honest government.
The figures show the lowest number of uncontested General Assembly seats — seats lacking Republican or Democratic challengers to the other major-party candidate — since 1998. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is right that "public campaign financing is having its intended effect, which is to motivate more of our citizens to take ownership of the political process."
The voluntary Citizens' Election Program, administered by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, makes grants of public money available to legislative candidates and those running for statewide office such as governor. The program makes it easier for inexperienced candidates and those with limited access to money to run for office.
Of course, Connecticut still has work to do: Governor Dannel Malloy refused to sign a sweeping disclosure bill into law - a measure that would have brought the dark money still lurking in Connecticut’s elections out of the shadows. But it’s clear that Connecticut’s prescience on public financing is paying off today.
Other states are on the move as well. Progressives United previously joined reform groups in New York that have launched a push for public financing in that state. Ultimately, these robust systems can continue reining in corporate influence that could otherwise steamroll state-level campaigns with a few big checks. And eventually, members of Congress might awaken to the fact that what we need is people-powered democracy, not cash-flooded backroom deal-making.