Hartford voters can change city politics for generations on Tuesday, Election Day, by voting yes on the charter revision question seeking municipal public campaign financing.
Adopting Question 2 — approved by the Charter Revision Commission and unanimously sent to the voters by the council — would allow public campaign financing for the mayoral, council and treasurer elections.
Hartford has a chance to join the 16 or so other cities nationwide that successfully use public campaign financing for local elections.
For those who say Hartford is too broke to give welfare to politicians, I hope the next federal grand jury subpoena is not served on you.
Pay-to-play politics is as old as quid pro quo, the Latin phrase "this for that," synonymous with candidates who accept campaign contributions from donors who expect favors once those politicians are elected. This election mechanism tends to corrupt, and exacts a higher toll on our country than public campaign financing.
Constitutionally speaking, the U.S. Supreme Court has said public campaign financing can only exist to eliminate the perception of corruption.
The Connecticut General Assembly understood the costs of quid pro quo after the conviction of former Gov. John G. Rowland for conspiracy to steal honest services from the state.
His successor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, signed into law a comprehensive public campaign financing system called the Clean Elections Program in December 2005.
Tucked in the Clean Elections Program is a pilot project allowing three state municipalities to create public campaign financing for local elections. Hartford can become the second.
In June 2006, New Haven recognized the potential of public funding and established the New Haven Democracy Fund. In full disclosure, I have administered the New Haven Democracy Fund since July 2012.
This year, the fund's fourth election cycle, was its biggest test. New Haven saw seven candidates run for mayor after 20-year incumbent John DeStefano announced he would not run for re-election. Four of the seven candidates signed a contract with the Democracy Fund.
Participating candidates limit themselves to contributions of no more than $370 per individual, and they refuse contributions from unions, corporations and political action committees.
In exchange, the Democracy Fund provides candidates with a modest 2-to-1 matching funds program and a $19,000 grant. The candidates must pass a threshold of public support — 200 donations — to get the money.
Local public campaign financing entities like the Democracy Fund and New York City's Campaign Finance Board also seek to increase voter participation and the amount of time candidates spend talking to real voters, not wealthy donors.
Proponents have long believed, as an article of faith, that public campaign financing accomplishes these aims. Until recently, there has been scant evidence.
Candidate filings from this year's New Haven Democratic Party primary look to add positive evidence. Preliminary data shows the fund accomplished some of its basic goals.
Usually, less than 1 percent of voters contribute to a candidate in any one election. In New Haven, about 15,000 people turned out for the primary and one candidate collected more than 1,000 individual donations. All four participating candidates combined received donations from almost 15 percent of the primary voters in New Haven for this cycle.
Other studies show the richest among us are the most frequent political contributors, and thus, government listens to them. Another New Haven candidate solicited dozens of matching fund donations of the minimum of $10 from students, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and the unemployed.
Any such campaign funded by the people is indebted to only the people, not contractors seeking pay dirt. The quadrennial expense of the million dollars that public campaign financing will cost Hartford is much less expensive than defending federal investigations and citizens' attendant loss of confidence in government.
Hartford saw seven candidates run for mayor in 2007. It could happen again in 2015. Voters can now ensure future candidates have the option of publicly financed runs, and create a civic conversation about issues, as happened this year in New Haven.
Hartford voters can do this by voting yes on Question 2 for publicly financed campaigns for mayor, city council and treasurer.
Kenneth J. Krayeske lives in Hartford.Copyright © 2015, CT Now