COLUMN

'One Bad Apple' Might Be Legislature Itself

Connecticut State Capitol

In the wake of a campaign finance scandal involving a top campaign aide to the former speaker of the House, the Connecticut General Assembly upended the landmark campaign finance reforms it passed in 2005. (Lisa Jacobs / via Flickr) (Lisa Jacobs / via Flickr / July 20, 2013)

Brendan Sharkey is the speaker of our House of Representatives. There is mounting evidence that he is also a monkey head.

Connecticut Magazine — better known for articles such as "Top Places for Fried Clams Recommended by Connecticut's Best Dentists" — ran an admirable article, with lots of sidebars and a really cool board game style chart, in its August issue.

The thrust of the article is something many of us have been struggling for new words to say: There is ample reason to believe that Connecticut legislators would do truly repugnant things in return for campaign contributions. This year, rather than deal with that problem, they actually rammed through a massive set of changes that allow them to get even more money, with even less public scrutiny of what that money prompts them to do.

Sharkey's comments in the article are mind-boggling. He was asked specifically about the recent federal trial of the campaign finance director of his predecessor, Chris Donovan. Robert Braddock was convicted. Seven other conspirators eventually pleaded guilty. If you would like a breathtaking view of the depth and nakedness of the corruption on display in this case, I recommend "Where There's Smoke," Doug Hardy's easy-to-follow multi-media presentation at CTNewsjunkie.com. It takes a while to click through, but you will come away convinced that lots of other state Capitol folks knew the fix was in to kill a bill that would have upped taxes on roll-your-own tobacco shops.

Sharkey told Connecticut Magazine that the case proved the legislature is clean because it boiled down to one "scumbag" who thought he could influence legislators with campaign cash and who turned out to be wrong.

That amounts to saying that black is white. The scumbag in question was a union official named Ray Soucy. The bill he was trying to kill did, in fact, die. The trial revealed a very well-oiled machine, located close to Sharkey, into which Soucy could dump campaign money and then have multiple conversations about what was happening to a bill he didn't like. The investigation did not uncover even one instance of anybody telling Soucy, this — to use another Sharkeyism, "notorious individual" — to get lost. Au contraire. The trial unveiled a legislature — including Sharkey's Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz — very familiar with this scumbag and very comfortable negotiating with him.

Sharkey made the "one bad apple" argument about what is basically a federal Superfund toxic apple cleanup site.

The reason to get mad about this is what happened next. Sharkey and other legislative leaders concocted, in secrecy, a 90-page bill that blew through Connecticut's election laws the way a tornado roars through a town, ripping up and smashing everything in its path. This huge, suppurating boil of pseudo-legislation appeared out of nowhere and was immediately voted through in the middle of the night without public hearings.

The behavior of the Democratic majority in the General Assembly could be compared to that of a morbidly obese man who, upon being told that he must go on a diet, immediately sells his house and moves to a cot in a 7-Eleven next to the Slurpee machine.

"We were blindsided," said Cheryl Dunson, president of the League of Women Voters. "This is increasingly the way the legislature has been operating, and even after the session we're still struggling to assess all the impacts of this bill."

Bottom line, she said, the bill opened up more ways to pump money indirectly into the hands of candidates and have nobody else know who you are or why you did it. Great.

There's a new level of arrogance on display. The League of Women Voters is the ultimate mainstream organization, and the leadership essentially told them to blow it out their old wazoos.

Here's what I suggest. If you live in Hamden, Berlin or Southington, seriously consider challenging Sharkey or Aresimowicz in a primary or a general election. Make clean government your issue.

If you live anywhere else, join the League of Women Voters. They have 1,600 members and 27 chapters in the state. They accept dudes. If nothing else, it's a great way to meet women, and you might even save democracy in the process.

Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.

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