MERIDEN — Democrat Hilda Santiago’s campaign has raised more than $70,000 in contributions in her bid to become Secretary of the State as the sitting state representative and other candidates close in on the amount needed to secure public financing.
Santiago’s campaign had raised $70,406 as of March 31, according to an announcement issued Monday. That total includes $32,847 raised between Jan. 1 and March 31, the announcement stated. Candidates have until April 10 to file their latest quarterly campaign finance reports.
The Democratic field of candidates in the running for Secretary of the State also includes state Sen. Matt Lesser, state Rep. Stephanie Thomas of Norwalk, Maritza Bond and Darryl Brackeen Jr., both of New Haven, and state Rep. Josh Elliott of Hamden.
Brock Weber of Wolcott, Terrie Wood of Darien and Dominic Rapini of Branford are vying for the Republican Party nomination in the race. Also in the running are independent candidate Cynthia Jennings of Hartford and Libertarian Party candidate Harold Harris of Glastonbury.
Santiago, who currently represents the all-Meriden 84th House district, says when she addresses local Democratic Town Committees across Connecticut and speaks with voters on the campaign trail, those conversations tend to focus on the potential expansion of early voting — a question that will be posed to voters on the November ballot.
“That’s my priority — because early voting expands the accessibility to voting rights,” Santiago said. “More people will be able to vote. [With early voting], they don’t have to worry about taking the day off.”
Another campaign issue, absentee voting, was partially addressed by state lawmakers last month, when they passed a bill that expands the definition of sickness as an excuse to vote by absentee ballot.
Santiago noted the state constitution would need to be amended in order for no excuse absentee ballots to be allowed.
With state party conventions happening next month, Santiago said she is optimistic about her chances of securing the Democratic Party nomination.
“I think every candidate is optimistic,” Santiago said.
According to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, candidates seeking election to statewide office, with the exception of governor, must raise $86,600 in contributions from individual donors to qualify for public financing through the Citizens Election Program. The limits set on those contributions are a minimum of $5 and maximum $290, according to SEEC.
Santiago’s fundraising statement comes on the heels of an announcement last week that she has received the endorsement of several prominent Democrats in local and statewide office, including U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, in her quest for the party’s nomination.
Santiago’s announcement on Monday stated her campaign raised more than $7,000 on Thursday alone after having issued what it had described as a “deadline call of action to supporters.”
Santiago’s campaign stated its maximum candidate committee contribution has been capped at $290, while most of her opponents’ exploratory campaigns had set higher limits of $375.
Several candidates, including Lesser, have yet to form official candidate committees.
Lesser, a Middletown resident, formed an exploratory committee and has not formed a candidate committee for specific statewide office.
“I’m still exploring. But I’m very focused on the office of Secretary of the State,” Lesser said, when reached Monday.
Lesser said on or around April 10, his campaign will report having raised the $86,800 total needed to secure public financing.
Lesser described the campaigns of his Democratic Party opponents as being heavy on consultant related expenses.
He said when the April 10 reports come out, they will show “not only will we have raised more, but we will have spent less than any other candidates.”
Lesser described the November contests in East Coast states like Connecticut as the most important in the country.
“We’re in a crisis in our democracy,” he said. “We’re seeing people lose confidence in elections as a way we resolve our disputes.”
Those seeking the Democratic Party nomination generally agree on campaign issues that have come up so far, including taking positions supporting the potential expansion of early voting, which will be a question on the November ballot.
While the office of Secretary of the State is charged with administering and implementing election laws to ensure “fair and impartial elections,” the office is also responsible for overseeing how business law is administered in the state.
Lesser said most of the office’s responsibilities are business and commercial related. “We’ve got to make it easier to open a small business,” he said.
Lesser said he is a battle-tested candidate who has waged tough campaigns in the past.
Thomas, another lawmaker in the running for Secretary of the State, said Tuesday one of the main reasons she is in the running is because she believes the office’s role needs to be redefined.
“We need to focus on civic engagement,” Thomas said, adding that expanding access to voting can’t happen “without teaching people how to educate themselves.”
Like Santiago and Lesser, Thomas said she plans to participate in the Citizens Election Program. Thomas said her campaign has garnered the support of around 550 unique donors, all of whom had made small contributions.