Election reform advocates warn a budget-cutting proposal from Democratic lawmakers to suspend Connecticut’s public campaign financing system for the 2016 elections could roll back a decade of efforts to eliminate special interest money in elections. The bipartisan State Elections Enforcement Commission on Tuesday issued an unusual joint resolution that opposes the proposed changes. It warned such a suspension would set the Citizens Election Fund “on course for permanent underfunding” and lead candidates to once again rely on campaign contributions from lobbyists and special interests. The program provides publicly funded grants to state candidates who raise qualifying funds in small contributions and agree to spending and fundraising limitations. It was created in 2005 following the corruption scandal that ultimately sent then-Gov. John G. Rowland to prison.
“It was done because everyone at that time realized that corruption is far more expensive than the cost of a clean election program. That has not changed,” read the commission’s joint resolution. “This budget is detrimental to the Citizens’ Election Program, and will result in the justified erosion of public confidence in campaign finance in Connecticut.”
Participation in the program is optional, although most state candidates apply for the grants. Seventy-four percent of candidates accepted financing during the 2014 elections, according to Connecticut Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group. They called on Democrats Tuesday to retract the proposal.
The Citizens Election Fund has been put to the test in recent years. Despite the limitations placed on participating candidates, the amount of outside money spent on Connecticut elections has ballooned since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allows various groups to independently spend unlimited amounts to influence campaigns.