Following a slew of high-profile corruption trials, Connecticut’s General Assembly is pushing two bills aimed at curbing government misconduct in state politics.
The General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee heard House Bills 7051 and 7052 last week. The first bill intends to provide state prosecutors with the tools necessary to tackle public corruption cases by granting them subpoena powers, while the second aims to prevent convicted politicians from running for office as of Jan. 1, 2016.
The bills arrive at a time when many highly publicized corruption trials are taking place across the state. Former Connecticut congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and former Gov. John Rowland were recently convicted of campaign fraud. A jury convicted Rowland in September of six felony and misdemeanor charges for violating federal campaign laws by covering up his role as a paid consultant to Wilson-Foley’s congressional campaign. This is Rowland’s second corruption-related conviction; in 2004, the former governor pleaded guilty to taking payments from state contractors.
The Judiciary Committee, currently in the stage of hearing the bills, will vote to pass, amend or defeat them.
State Rep. William Tong, a Democrat representing Stamford who serves as co-chair of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, spoke in support of legislation preventing convicted public officials from running for office.
“I don’t think people should have the opportunity to betray us again,” he said. “Serving in public office is a privilege.”
U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly, whose office runs the Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force, is prohibited from taking a position on any pending legislation. But, at a February press conference, she said she believes that corruption is particularly widespread in Connecticut because state prosecutors have limited subpoena power.
“They don’t have a viable grand jury system, which hampers their ability to do complex cases,” she said. “I can’t think of any other state that is handicapped in that way.”
As a result, many Connecticut corruption convictions have been carried out at the federal level. The Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force, which began operating last year, investigates and prosecutes state officials suspected of corruption. The group consists mostly of federal officials, including investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service and the Offices of Inspector General of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development.
Former Bridgeport Mayor Tom Bucci joined current Mayor Bill Finch in backing the legislation introduced to the Judiciary Committee.
“We saw Bridgeport set back by more than a decade because of avarice,” Bucci said in a letter to the committee.
Joseph Ganim, mayor of Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003, served seven years in prison after being convicted of 16 counts of public corruption. Ganim reportedly steered city contracts in exchange for bribes.
Ganim is currently considering another mayoral campaign. In February, Finch sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee co-chairs requesting that the disqualification measure apply after the 2015 election cycle, so as to avoid making it seem as though Bill 7052 is intended to specifically drive Ganim off the ballot.
City of Bridgeport Communications Director Brett Broesder called the bills “common-sense” laws.
“People deserve second chances, but we need to set people who are re-entering our community after serving time up for success,” he said in an email. “Sex offenders shouldn’t work in a day care, and corrupt politicians shouldn’t work in government.”
New York, Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Mississippi and Montana all currently have a lifetime ban on politicians convicted of corruption charges.