Ernie Newton II, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2006 for accepting bribes and misusing campaign funds, is close to being able to use public financing in his attempt to return to the seat he had to give up due to his malfeasance.
After Republican Gov. John G. Rowland left office amid a corruption scandal, Connecticut lawmakers in 2005 passed a voluntary public campaign financing program to remove special interest money from elections.
Now a former legislator sentenced to prison for taking a bribe and misusing campaign money wants to take advantage of public financing to fund his return to the General Assembly.
“We’re close. We’re very close,” Ernest Newton II said last week when asked about collecting the $15,000 in small $5 to $100 contributions necessary to qualify for public financing.
A 17-year veteran of the Legislature, Newton was sentenced in February 2006 to five years in federal prison and three years probation for taking a $5,000 bribe to push through a state grant, diverting $40,682 in campaign contributions to himself and others and failing to report the money on his income tax return.
Somehow, Newton received Democratic endorsement for the election, though there was enough support for incumbent Edwin Gomes and state representative Andres Ayala to force a primary on August 14.
What’s been most interesting for me is watching people tap-dance around the issue.
Arthur Paulson, a political science professor at Southern Connecticut State University, said any effort by the General Assembly to restrict felons from participating in public campaign financing would likely run up against the 14th Amendment providing equal protection of the laws.
“I can’t see a scenario … where you can allow a felon to run for public office but can’t allow them public campaign funds,” Paulson said.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause, a good government group that has backed campaign finance and ethics reform, said she understands how some individuals might question Newton’s eligibility.
“It’s difficult for me to imagine voters want to send him or anybody else (who) abused their office for their own purpose back,” she said.
But Quickmire added, “If you do your time you should get your rights restored. Not just some of your rights … And then the decision beyond that is up to the voters of that community.”
I don’t see what’s so hard about this. It’s one thing to say that felons who have had their voting rights restored, and who are allowed to run for public office, being able to use public money. But when that felony we’re talking about is misusing the same type of money you’re trying to get, no, that’s not going to fly. It’s easy: if you were convicted of either accepting bribes, or misusing campaign funds for your personal expenses, you can never, ever use public funds again.
Of course, people like Ernie Newton are exactly what’s wrong with politics in the major cities in Connecticut, particularly in Bridgeport (where he’s from) and New Haven. These cities – largely either union or poor – vote Democrat to the point where one has to wonder if some form of coercion is going on. 80% of Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport voted for Governor Dannel Malloy, and that is literally the only reason he squeaked out a victory against Tom Foley. The graft and corruption in Bridgeport in particular is so widespread and so ingrained that it’s become almost a sort of banana republic in its own right. It should be noted, of course, that Bridgeport’s schools are so poor that the state had to come in and take them over.
Ernie Newton getting the Democratic nod for his old senate seat that he literally sold away should be a cause of concern for everyone, and if he wins his primary, it should come as a shock.