The Republican State Central Committee is considering a resolution that aims to discourage wealthy self-funders from putting delegates to the party nominating convention on the payroll.
The measure–which will be formally introduced tonight, although a vote isn’t expected until January–would encourage town committees to select delegates who are not being paid by a campaign. Delegates that are on a candidate’s payroll would be required to disclose the arrangement–perhaps by wearing a badge on the convention floor, under the terms of the proposed rules change.
While proponents were quick to say they were not targeting any specific candidate, the move is a signal that Connecticut Republicans hope to heal the sharp divisions of the 2010 U.S. Senate race.
Linda McMahon, a multi-millionaire self-funder, gave lavishly to Republican town committees prior to the convention and also placed delegates on her campaign’s payroll. Though she won the party’s nomination at the convention, surprising the one-time frontrunner Rob Simmons, McMahon lost the general election to Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
Now McMahon is running again for U.S. Senate, and some party activists say the rules change will result in a more transparent convention in 2012.
“Most people are going to the convention with very good intentions,” said Mark Pappa, a state central committee from Rocky Hill and a leading proponent of the change. “But there are other people–based on the last convention–whose votes were tainted, whose votes were bought and paid for.”The resolution would “purify the process,” Pappa said, preventing “a political eBay” where the highest bidder can win a delegate’s vote.
It is “a way to heal some of the allegations of impropriety that went on during the last Senate campaign,” added Pappa, who backed Simmons. “We’re trying to come up with an ethical system.”
The idea to curb the influence of paid delegates was first broached by two outsiders: Joe Visconti, a Republican firebrand from West Hartford and Martha Dean, a lawyer and the party’s 2010 nominee for attorney general. Neither Dean nor Visconti are members of the state central committee.
“We need to clean up the two parties if we expect the public to have respect for the process and the candidates who are elected,” said Dean, who drafted the resolution.
“As Republicans, we should always support the free flow of campaign funds provided there’s full disclosure,” she said. “Delegates should not be on any campaign in a paid or vendor position. At worst, it creates a real conflict; at best it creates the appearance of impropriety.”
The party will gather at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford in May to nominate candidates for U.S. Senate and Congress. Most of the races are contested and party Chairman Jerry Labriola pledged to be an “honest broker” and remain neutral in races where Republicans are competing against one another.When asked about the resolution–first disclosed over the weekend by The King, an anonymous GOP blogger–Labriola chose his words carefully.
“I believe the proposal is in response to the unprecedented level of money spent during our party’s 2010 nominating process. While I don’t intend to take a position on it as state chairman, I’m willing to let it be introduced and to allow a healthy debate by the members,” Labriola said Monday.
“Money is a scarce commodity in politics and we can’t deny a candidate the right to commit his or her hard earned resources to a campaign. Such a commitment may in fact be a positive attribute to a candidacy. However our nominations should never be for sale,” he added.
Pappa said the aim isn’t to punish McMahon or any other self-funder. “She’s ultimately someone who’s a very generous person,” he said. “She has a big heart, but it did give the appearance of buying people’s votes.”
In the murky world of campaign finance, such payments are often hard to ferret out. Labelled as “consulting work” or “field staff,” the fees are often hard to discern on mandated campaign finance reports.
McMahon’s communications director, Erin Isaac, declined to discuss the resolution in detail. “As leaders within our party, we have every confidence that [state central committee] members will make convention-related decisions that are best for our party,” she said via email.
Meanwhile, Chris Shays, one of McMahon’s rivals for the GOP Senate nomination, praised the move, saying it would bring more openness and transparency to the nominating process.
“If we want to process to be credible down in Washington, we need to start right here at home…being credible,” Shays said Monday. “We need to strive for openness and transparency. If you’re getting money from a campaign you should not be a delegate.”
Shays, a close friend of Simmons’, declined to discuss the 2010 convention, which he did not attend.”I’m not going to dwell on what happened in the last convention,” he said. “We’re going to start fresh and we’re not going to throw stones at anyone…all I want is a fair process…and I would think everyone else would too.”