Christine Stuart photo

The Republican proposal to eliminate Connecticut’s public campaign financing system prompted Democratic lawmakers to issue their colleagues on the other side of the aisle a stern warning Thursday.

Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, who was instrumental in ushering through the landmark legislation in 2005, said he wanted Republican lawmakers to know that the state’s public campaign financing system will not be part of their Connecticut tag sale.

In addition to taking the estimated $40 to $60 million in funds used to help fund campaigns, Republicans also proposed selling state property as a way to solve the state’s estimated $8.7 billion budget deficit without raising taxes.

Last year was the first year the public campaign financing system was used in campaigns for state representative and state senator. Next year will be the first time the system will be used for statewide campaigns and supporters of the fund said they don’t know how much money will be needed for those races, since they’re unable to predict how many candidates will participate.

Christine Stuart photo

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said legislators using the fund for the first time felt empowered by the experience because it brought them back to the people they represent.

The campaign finance system no longer allows lobbyist and state contractor contributions, requiring candidates to raise no more than $100 from their constituents.

Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the clean election system was “one of the best things Connecticut has done in years.”

Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said it was never the party’s intention to lift the restrictions on lobbyists and contractors.

“We would maintain all the restrictions, but not use taxpayer funds to pay for our campaigns,” McKinney said Thursday in a phone interview.

He said the campaign fund has to be part of the budget conversation. He said taxpayers need to know that they pay for our campaigns and all the bumper stickers and lawns signs that come with it. He said if the state wants to keep this program, then it’s a choice between which programs should be cut or taxes should be raised.

Williams said if the state did away with public campaign finance then it would empower wealthy individuals in the state to ban together and start writing checks. He said special interests would run right back through the loophole.

The Democrats and Republicans have already taken $13.5 million from the fund this year.

McKinney said that on April 17 the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee recommended taking another $13 million from the fund in an effort to help balance this year’s more than $1 billion budget deficit. The recommendation was part of the $245 million in cuts.