Paul Gordon Collier
Connecticut’s pay for play law was created to prevent businesses with government contracts from contributing to politicians that may assist them in keeping, or even expanding, those government contracts. The law was met with praise from the entire nation as Connecticut appeared to have boldly addressed political corruption like few other states had ever dared try. One such business that fell within the definition of the law’s proscriptions was Suffolk Construction.
Due to the nature of the company’s contracts with the state, the law prohibits executives from the company from contributing to any state campaigns. John Fish, an executive from Suffolk Construction, contributed $10,000 to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee. The committee promptly returned the contribution to Fish the next day.
But this was not the end of this story, for a few day later the same John Fish wrote a new $10,000 check to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee. This time, however, Fish instructed the contribution to go to the federal fund within the committee.
Fish is not alone in this tactic, but he is merely the latest example of a long list of contributors who have managed to continue to give generously to state political organizations who have also created their federal funds. The practice of pay for play in Connecticut has continued thanks to this loophole which the law failed to foresee and to address.
The Courant recently researched the breakdown of contributions in 2013 that reveal this pay for play practice is decidedly one sided:
……top executives of companies on the banned state list have donated at least $174,925 to the federal account. Including non-executives of those companies, who are permitted to donate, the figure is nearly $380,000.
Since 2013, the Republican account has received about $65,000 from employees of state contractors – one-sixth what the Democrats have collected…..
As Connecticut is a democratically controlled state, the fact that companies are circumventing this law to pay them instead of republicans is not a surprise. After all, if the republicans controlled the state, it is reasonable to assume these companies would contribute to them instead, especially if the purpose of their donations was simply to secure contracts from the state.
While the Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission has asserted that the contributions going to federal funds do not create a loophole, critics point out that current federal campaign laws do not clearly prevent federal campaign funds from contributing to state candidates.
Other critics have pointed out that contributions to federal campaigns by contributors who are prohibited from giving to state campaign efforts free up other contributors to give more to state campaigns and less to the federal campaigns. As political parties and PACs are permitted to contribute to state campaigns, it is not difficult to work out how schemes could be developed that would enable one contribution of $10,000 to the federal campaign to work out to an in-kind contribution by national political entities to state campaigns.
The Pay for Play law was passed in 2005 following a scandal involving then-Governor John G Rowland, a scandal that ultimately led to his conviction on federal charges of kickbacks. The question that many in Connecticut now have regarding the Pay for Play law is this; was the law designed to appease the public in the wake of that scandal or was the law not written clearly enough so as to prevent this continued practice of pay for play?
Others assert that the failure of the law is not in its design or intention, but in the inability of laws to prevent practices and behaviors that are an endemic part of a culture the law seeks to restrict. In the case of pay for play, these critics propose, the root of the problem is that the political culture in Connecticut is insulated from direct accountability by the people this culture is designed to serve.
In the case of Connecticut, the state is securely in the hands of democrats, with their state senate controlled by democrats 22-14 and their state house controlled by democrats 98-53. In any state in which one party has a monopoly on power, the theory goes, this ‘culture of corruption’ is bound to emerge.
So far, there have been no proposals by leaders in the Connecticut legislature to address this loophole.