ROBERT FIORITO – Corruption led to bill

It may already have been signed into law by the governor, but the fight over Connecticut’s sweeping campaign finance reform bill is probably not yet over as groups across the state plan to challenge the bill in court.

But for the time being, the state’s political action committees need to figure out how to work within the confines of the bill, which would prohibit contributions to candidates for state offices from lobbyists and state contractors. The Connecticut Association of Realtors, for example, is one of the organizations affected by the changes, and CAR President Robert Fiorito said he hopes the group can find a way to adapt.

CAR was against the bill, which has come after years of Connecticut being hard-hit by corruption at the state and local levels. Groups have been pressuring the state Legislature to enact reform particularly since former Gov. John G. Rowland pleaded guilty to federal charges that involved accepting gifts and failing to pay taxes on them.

“The biggest thing to get this over the hill has been the corruption going on in Connecticut’s government,” Fiorito said.

Everyone wants fairness and propriety in state campaign financing, Fiorito added, but the bill overcompensates for the system’s shortcomings.

The bill also established a voluntary, publicly funded financing system for political candidates, something CAR is against. Although the money is to come from unclaimed funds, that money would otherwise go into the general fund and help offset some costs for taxpayers. But with the new system, the unclaimed funds will go into campaign financing, ultimately taking away from taxpayers’ money, Fiorito said. CAR has always been against public funding of campaigns.

The bill also allows legislative leaders, state parties and unions to pay for candidates’ in-kind services, provisions which favor major two-party candidates.

“It’s concentrated the power and the ability to throw money at elections,” Fiorito said. “If you’re not one of the major two party candidates, you have to jump through more hoops to get money.”

‘Overly Broad’

There are some provisions of the new law that could help CAR. It increases the amount of money the Realtors Political Action Committee can provide to candidates who decide not to take public money.

Still Fiorito said the law’s downsides outweigh its positive aspects.

“We certainly respect that lawmakers are attempting to do what they perceive to be the honorable thing and clean up the political process but it’s too bad they reacted to the corruption of a few by restricting political participation of the many,” Fiorito said in a prepared statement. “The legislation is overly broad and some parts may violate the Constitution.

“There’s something wrong with a law that gives advantages to some political committees over others, and which tells some citizens that they cannot donate to someone running for office. We would have preferred the legislative bodies had come up with something that is truly balanced and workable.”

After the new year, Fiorito said, CAR likely will hold meetings to figure out the new rules and how to play by them.

“Certainly we will help and support candidates [who are] Realtor-friendly on our issues as the law allows,” he said.

The political action committee will find a way to work with the state government, Fiorito said.

“Over the past three decades, RPAC has given men and women in the real estate industry a way to participate in our representative form of government,” said Fiorito in his statement. “Hard dollars, raised voluntarily, have been strictly regulated. Contributions to candidates have been fully disclosed. And, through RPAC, our members play a civic role in identifying candidates who they feel protect private property rights, promote homeownership and the free enterprise system.

“We will adapt to the new law, because as we’ve always said, ‘If real estate is your profession, politics is your business.'”