Photo courtesy of the House Democratic caucus

A Democratic legislator introduced an amendment to the budget bill Friday which would have eliminated the Citizens Election Fund – a fund that already is credited with helping political newcomers run for office.

The Citizens Election Fund is the state’s public campaign finance fund, which provides a campaign grant to candidates who raise enough small qualifying contributions.

The legislator, Rep. Corky Mazurek, D-Wolcott, said his position has always been that the $61 million in the fund for the next two years could be better used to help fund programs, “instead of running our campaigns.” Mazurek’s amendment would have turned back the clock on campaign fundraising by allowing both lobbyists and political action committees to contribute to campaigns. Even though the amendment was defeated 37-98, Mazurek said he hopes the discussion continues.

Mazurek said when people are sitting around figuring out how they will pay their bills he doesn’t know how state lawmakers can ask them to pay for their bumperstickers and backscratchers. The money for the Citizens Election Fund comes from the sale of abandoned state property and other unclaimed state assets.

“Democracy is not owned by the people in this room,” Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, said. He said the reason the public campaign financing system was set up in the first place was to rid the system of corruption and special interests that helped send former Gov. John G. Rowland to prison.

Caruso said the state of Connecticut spent millions of dollars cleaning up the mess created by the former campaign system, which protected incumbents.

“We incumbents do not own this chamber,” Caruso said.

At one point, Caruso accused Mazurek of introducing the amendment because he was almost defeated by a challenger who had taken advantage of the new public campaign finance system in the last election.

Mazurek said he’s always opposed the Citizens Election Fund.

Mazurek voted in favor of his amendment to dismantle the Citizens Election Fund and was joined by all but one member of the Republican caucus and three of his Democratic colleagues, Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, Rep. Mary Fritz, D-Yalesville, and Rep. Shawn Johnston, D-North Grosvernordale. Mazurek, some of his Democratic colleagues, as well as most of the Republicans, who voted to get rid of the fund Friday also participated in and received money from the fund during the last election cycle.

The one Republican who broke ranks with his party to vote against the amendment was freshman Rep. Tony Hwang of Fairfield.

Following the vote, Hwang said the Citizens Election Fund does allow for a level playing field and helps to take money out of the political process. He said the Republican budget proposal eliminated the funding for the Citizens Election Fund, but it did not allow lobbyists and political action committees to get back into the business of financing campaigns.

“It balances the playing field and encourages better candidates to participate,” Hwang said.

He said he wasn’t dismissing the value of the $61 million, but was “protecting the democratic process.”

Hwang defeated first-term Democrat Tom Christiano last year.