Archive - Nov 21, 2008

The Citizens Election Program

The State Election Enforcement Commission is holding hearings on Citizens Election Program. Their first hearing was held last Wednesday and the next hearing will be held on December 5th. Susan Haigh’s article in the Journal Inquirer, Feedback sought on Conn. campaign finance provides a useful background to the hearings.

As I read the article, I was struck by the list of witnesses at the first hearing. Just about everyone mentioned in the article, it seems, has been involved in electoral politics for some time. How ‘citizen’ oriented were these hearings?

Sure, the focus has been to reduce the impact of special interest money on elections; money that makes it harder for a regular citizen to have a strong voice in the political process, and sure, the hearings were all about the petitioning, fundraising, and reporting aspects of the new program, which is less interesting to the average voter, but I had to wonder where the citizen is in this process.

When my wife ran for State Representative in 2004, we were shocked to find the number of people who did not know who their state representatives were. People even asked Kim if she would have to move to Washington if she were elected. We clearly need some sort of program to get people more involved. Is the Citizens Election Program helping in this area?

These hearings aren’t giving us any indication. What I would be interested in hearing is testimony from people that paid closer attention to the state legislative races because of the program. Did you pay closer attention this time around?

It may have been harder to pay closer attention because the Presidential election got so much attention, yet we clearly received much more information about the candidates running because of the Citizens Election Program.

Was there better coverage of the state legislative races in the local papers? Not only did Presidential election take up much of everyone’s attention, but the difficulties of the local papers may also have prevented them from more in depth coverage of the state legislative races. In spite of all of this, there was some great coverage of the races, and I wonder what we would have seen if it wasn’t for the Citizens Election Program.

The same applies to debates. Here in Woodbridge, there wasn’t a state legislative race debate. We’re new to Woodbridge and I don’t know when there was a state legislative race debate here. Organizations that sponsor such debates have been struggling to get by in recent years. Did the Citizens Election Program result in more debates, or at least help stem a decline in the number of state legislative debates? Again, this is hard to tell.

What would be most interesting would be a survey to find out if voters heading into the polling places felt better informed about the candidates and the issues this time around then they have in previous elections. It would probably be difficult to construct a poll that would accurately gather this information, but it would be great to find out.

So, while people argue about how much the reduction in special interest money in state elections has brought about a more informed and involved voting population, it is worth looking at how the money that was provided also helped involve and inform the voting population.

One final note, my wife, Kim Hynes, is an organizer and lobbyist for Common Cause here in Connecticut, and Common Cause, along with several other groups, continue to work hard to promote citizen involvement in our government through programs like the Citizens Election Program.

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