Alderman pushes banning campaign contributions from contractors

Four months after the costliest mayoral election in New Haven history, Ward 8 Alderman Vinnie Mauro is calling on the city’s Charter reform commission to consider the so-called “Goldfield Amendment,” which would prohibit the mayor and other elected officials from accepting campaign contributions from city contractors.

With the U.S. Senate poised to begin debating the first significant national campaign finance reform bill since 1974, Mauro wants the committee charged with reviewing the city’s constitution to examine a local campaign finance reform platform named for Alderman Carl Goldfield, who first introduced the bill.

“Campaign finance reform gets all kinds of notoriety,” Mauro said. “But when you really look at what they talk about, it’s kind of hard to comprehend. But when you look at a mayor’s race in a city of 120,000 people — in which the candidates spent $1.2 million, the influence becomes clear.”

While he acknowledged that there may be other solutions to the problem — such as state funding of campaigns — he said such reforms are unlikely to emerge in the near future.

“I figured that this was the way to do a little bit here in New Haven,” he said. “We should be leading the way. Lawyers get paid a lot of money to find loopholes, so let’s close a few of them.”

While Mayor John DeStefano Jr. bemoaned the $1.2 million he and his challengers spent in the election this fall, he maintained yesterday that campaign finance law is best left to state or federal legislators.

In this fall’s race for City Hall, primary and general election candidates spent an average of almost $35 for each of the approximately 34,000 votes cast.

If recommended by the Charter reform committee and approved by city voters, the law would ban the mayor, the city clerk, and members of the Board of Aldermen from taking money from any corporation, organization or individual who holds contracts with the city.

The law would also require all candidates for elected office — as well as mayoral appointees — to disclose any ties to political action committees, the organizations through which corporations and unions often channel their campaign funds.

Although the Board of Aldermen has yet to appoint the five to 15 member commission that will review the Charter over the course of the next 18 months, Mauro and several other aldermen have already offered a host of diverse proposals for the committee’s consideration.

DeStefano himself is pushing for an increase in the length of the city’s mayoral term from two to four years — a change that he has said would probably help prevent races for cash like the one that occurred this fall.

But the mayor said yesterday he did not support incorporating campaign finance law into the charter.

“First of all, I think under the law — campaign finance falls under the jurisdiction of [state] statute,” he said. “But I think that mechanisms that move toward public financing of campaigns is generally a good thing — There are mechanisms that some states have to do that. I don’t know how that would be done here.”

New Haven Corporation Counsel Tom Ude, the city’s top attorney, said his office examined campaign finance law a few years ago and found evidence to support the mayor’s claim.

“There are pretty substantial limits to what the city itself could do as far as campaign finance reform,” said Ude, who holds his position by mayoral appointment. “Under state law, there are limits to what cities have within their power to enact.”

DeStefano said the Goldfield Amendment would only fix a small part of the overall problem with campaign finance.

“You’re only getting rid of one class of donations,” he said.

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