Following Connecticut's Lead (update)

A former governor in disgrace after a federal investigation into extensive corruption, mounting allegations of campaign finance abuses among state and local public officials, and a growing clamor from voters for reform; hard to tell if we’re talking about Illinois or Connecticut.

The big difference is that Connecticut has addressed its problems head-on with sweeping new campaign finance rules to limit the influence of large donors and – perhaps most importantly – allow candidates for public office to opt out of the private funding rat race entirely.

At 3 am last night, the Connecticut General Assembly gave final approval to a new plan that will ban giving by lobbyists and state contractors, create a public financing option for statewide and legislative candidates (judges are appointed in Connecticut), and regulate in-kind contributions. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has indicated she will sign the bill.

The bill isn’t perfect. Notably, it doesn’t take full effect until 2010, and some are concerned it doesn’t do enough to reign in the power of party leaders. It will likely be litigated.

But the Connecticut General Assembly has tackled this issue directly and with full public debate that stretched out over two months. This is the first time a legislature has voted to provide public financing for legislative candidates, meaning that incumbents have voted to help their challengers. Connecticut deserves applause for their handling of this issue. Let’s hope those similarities between our two states continue.