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March 6, 2023

Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause leader and CT reformer, dies

Contributed Karen Hobert Flynn died Friday of complications from cancer.

Karen Hobert Flynn, one of the reformers who won passage of the groundbreaking law behind Connecticut’s public financing of campaigns, died Friday of complications from cancer.

Hobert Flynn, who was 60, divided her time between Washington D.C. and Middletown, where she and her husband, Rob Flynn, raised four boys. She had been a democracy reform activist and leader for more than three decades.

Her death was announced by Common Cause, where she worked for more than a quarter century, the last seven as its national president.

In 2005, Hobert Flynn was the chair of Common Cause Connecticut, an integral element of a coalition that included a Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, and a left-leaning grassroots group, Connecticut Citizen Action Group.

“I had the pleasure of working with a lot of amazing people over the years, and I can’t think of anybody who was more committed or principled than Karen,” said Tom Swan, the CCAG leader. “She was smart, she was intense, she was fun.”

Rell became governor in July 2004 after Gov. John G. Rowland resigned during an impeachment inquiry and federal investigation into bid rigging. A month later, Rell extended a surprise invitation to Common Cause and CCAG to talk about campaign finance reform.

The new governor wanted bans on campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors, not public financing. But she eventually accepted public financing as a condition for squeezing special interest money out of Connecticut campaigns.

The law creating the Citizens’ Election Program, a voluntary system of publicly financing the campaigns of qualifying candidates who agree to limits on contributions and spending, passed in special session in 2005.

It is used nearly universally by candidates for the General Assembly and most statewide constitutional offices, the sole exception being the past two races for governor, which featured wealthy self funders.

One of them praised her activism and legacy Friday.

“Karen made a lasting impact on Connecticut politics as one of the architects of our nationally renowned public financing system, which has been mirrored by states around the country as a model for clean and fair government that encourages participation by all of our residents,” Gov. Ned Lamont said.

CCAG’s forte was direct action. Hobert Flynn, who was responsible for analyzing the evolving legislation, tended to be the point of contact with Rell, Swan said.

“On the fight for CEP, we developed a synergy where we knew, respected and appreciated each other’s lanes,” Swan said.

Two years after passage, Hobert Flynn was recruited to join Common Cause’s national staff, initially working with 36 state officials to develop staffs and execute campaigns. She became senior vice president for strategy and programs in 2012.

In 2016, she was named president of Common Cause, succeeding Miles Rapoport, the former Connecticut secretary of the state.

“Having Karen in such a powerful position, with her high standards, will ensure that the hard work and goals of the Connecticut Citizens’ Election Program stay in place,” Rell said then.

In fact, Hobert Flynn kept close watch on the program’s evolution — and the periodic efforts to weaken its limits on the influence of outside money and the ability of the State Elections Enforcement Commission to enforce them.

She was infuriated in 2011 when no one would own up to inserting a provision in the budget that would have gutted the budget and staffing of the elections enforcement commission and shifted control over the CEP to a partisan elected official, the secretary of the state.

“Somebody had to write the goddamned thing,” Hobert Flynn told CT Mirror.

She quickly organized opposition by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

“If it is a permanent cut, there will not be enough money for the 2014 elections. If there are insufficient funds, the Commission must by law reduce payment amounts to candidates and allow them to raise money from prohibited sources – like PACs and wealthy donors to fill the gap,” they wrote. “That will be a devastating blow to this historic and sweeping good government program.”

The changes were rescinded. Their author or authors remained unknown.

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