Connecticut Democrats propose suspending Clean Elections Fund to balance state budget

Facing a $350 million budget deficit, Democrats in Connecticut’s state legislature — which they control — unveiled a proposal on Monday that would, among other things, suspend the state’s Clean Elections Fund for the 2016 cycle in order to close the gap. Republicans, by contrast, had proposed to reduce funding for the program by 20 percent.

The program is set to cost the state $11.7 million next year, or just over three percent of the shortfall.

While the proposal would only officially nix the fund for one year, Connecticut’s Elections Enforcement Commission chair Michael Brandi warned that it would likely lead to a “death spiral” in the program. As he wrote in a statement:

The CEF has been a huge success and this move would put it on life support if not kill it entirely…It will not leave the fund enough money to fund the 2018 elections — so this is not a one-time suspension, it’s a permanent weakening, that will likely result in a death spiral — and it will return all of our elected officials to the culture of soliciting special interest money to fund their campaigns. This is not what the citizens of Connecticut signed up for when the Citizens’ Election Fund was created.

The fund was created with a broad popular mandate, and is likely one of the last things that its citizens would cut in order to close a budgetary hole. As Connecticut News Junkie notes, “The Citizens Election Program was implemented following the resignation of former Gov. John G. Rowland, who went to jail for taking gifts from state contractors.” Under the system, candidates who obtain a large enough base of in-district, small-dollar donations are eligible to receive a lump-sum round of public financing. As CTNJ elaborates:

The program allows candidates to raise small amounts of money in order to qualify for a larger state grant to conduct their campaign. State representative candidates had to raise $5,000 in donations under $100 in 2014 in order to qualify for a $27,850 grant, and a state senate candidate had to raise $15,000, also in donations under $100, in order to qualify for a $94,690 grant.

In 2012, 77 percent of successful campaigns qualified for funding through the CEF.

Money in politics, via Flickr

Money in politics, via Flickr

According to a report from Demos that specifically focused on Connecticut’s Clean Elections Fund, the program has produced all kinds of changes to the state’s politics that voters say they want. It has freed up candidates to spend time interacting with ordinary voters instead of fundraising. It has made it easier for ordinary citizens to run for office and reduced the state’s number of uncontested seats. It has actually increased the number of overall donors in the state while reducing the average donation. And, perhaps most importantly, since Connecticut adopted the CEF its legislature — and by extension its policies — have more closely represented its citizens’ characteristics and preferences.

In other words, that $11.7 million amounts to an investment in electing a more representative — which in a democracy is generally understood to be better — government.

If Connecticut’s final budget does in fact suspend the CEF, it would come at a time when public opinion regarding state-level campaign finance reforms is moving in the opposite direction. This past election saw Maine voters enact a clean elections law, which strengthened their public financing system and tightened disclosure rules, and Seattle voted in favor of implementing a democracy voucher program. At the end of the day, voters are willing to spend a little money if it means having a stronger democracy. Let’s see if Connecticut’s clean elections-funded legislature agrees.

UPDATE: Connecticut Democrats have backed off the measure:

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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3 Responses to “Connecticut Democrats propose suspending Clean Elections Fund to balance state budget”

  1. Indigo says:

    I see it. And I call foul!

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  3. mf_roe says:

    Am I the only one who sees a dog in this manger? Campaign finance reform succeeded in being responsible for 77% of the successful candidates in 2012, and these same “MORE LEGITIMATE OFFICIALS” are ready to discard the fruits of a more perfect system of election. Maybe, the corruption in elections isn’t the root but just a fruit of a deeper malfeasance.

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