SEEC asks Malloy to keep campaign finance law out of future budget negotiations

SEEC asks Malloy to keep campaign finance law out of future budget negotiations


With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vowing to veto the Republican budget adopted a week ago, the State Elections Enforcement Commission is asking him to ensure changes to campaign finance laws stay out of future negotiations.

The Republican budget would end the Citizen’s Election Program, which provides public financing to candidates, saving the state a combined $34.8 million over two years, but the five-member commission said in a recent letter that proposal ignores the program’s value.

They also asked in the letter to Malloy that he veto the budget and keep the topic out of future negotiations.

“Changes to the way our government operates and the access that Connecticut voters have to their elected officials should be done with transparency, not in closed door secret budget sessions,” the commission said in the letter sent Friday.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, responded, saying “we just cannot afford to spend taxpayers dollars on pencils, and postcards, and rulers, while we’re telling folks we’re not going to give them proper services.”

The state began offering campaign financing grants in 2008 through the Citizens’ Election Program. To qualify, statewide candidates must reach contribution thresholds through donations of no more than $100 per person, with limits on the number of donations that can come from outside their district.

Proponents have touted the program as a model on how to limit the influence by lobbyists and corporations.

Fasano, who also represents Wallingford, said changes to the CEP and state election laws have weakened the program’s value. He pointed to a Democrat-approved amendment that allowed Sen. Ted Kennedy to supplement his $95,000 grant in 2014 with $288,000 from the Democratic State Central Committee.

Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the state never should have started the program.

“I don’t agree in the public financing of campaigns, as simple as that,” said Sampson, who also represents part of Southington.

State Elections Enforcement Commission Executive Director Michael Brandi said the complaint is disingenuous because nearly 80 percent of candidates annually participate, including a high number of Republicans.

Sampson, who has been a CEP recipient since he first ran in 2012, said campaign rules create an “extreme disadvantage” for candidates who don’t use the program.

Brandi disagreed, pointing out candidates can seek higher donations if they don’t participate. He also raised concerns about other proposals in the Republican budget, including raising contribution limits for exploratory committees from $375 to $1,000.

Brandi said CEP has helped reduce the amount of spending in Connecticut races when compared to the rest of the country. He said that has also reduced the influence of private or special interests.

Brandi said the program has also been critical to Connecticut’s reputation. Lawmakers passed a package of campaign finance reforms in 2005 after a series of scandals that included former state Treasurer Paul J. Sylvester and Gov. John G. Rowland, and current Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who was re-elected in 2015 after his release from federal prison.

“It would bring Connecticut back to the days of ‘Corrupticut,’” Brandi said, referring to a phrase used playing on the state’s name and its image of corruption.

Brandi and the SEEC letter both said elimination of CEP would also result in only a small savings — the program collects $46 million over a four-year election cycle, funded by unclaimed bottle deposits.

When asked for a comment on the SEEC letter, a spokesman for Malloy said that the governor will veto the Republican budget, leading to continued negotiations.

“The governor has been very clear — he will veto this budget,” said the spokesman, Chris Collibee. “Over the past week he has held productive conversations with leadership from both parties regarding the budget and we look forward to those conversations continuing.”

Democratic lawmakers have also expressed concern about the proposed elimination of CEP, including House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.

Democrats have expressed a willingness to sacrifice the CEP for budgetary reasons in the past, though, notably suggesting in late 2015 that the program be suspended for the 2016 election cycle to help close budget deficits. That proposal also stalled.

Some Democrats say they never would have been elected into office without the program. Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said she doesn’t “have a political pedigree” that would have led to her 2016 victory under the old system.

Aside from costs, Fasano said SEEC has used CEP to help create “almost a cottage industry” for itself. He said the commission has sought to expand its reach and ability to investigate, an issue that has ruffled feathers within both parties.

“I think that they’ve gotten out of hand, they’ve become too large, and they’ve become too bureaucratic, but above and beyond that we can’t afford this program,” Fasano said.

Some lawmakers have also complained about investigations that take too long, and the Democrats’ budget included a requirement that the SEEC conclude all its investigations within a year of receiving a complaint.

Brandi said more than 70 percent of complaints are already resolved in less than a year, but he doesn’t have the staff to complete some of the more complex investigations within that time.
Twitter: @reporter_savino


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