The two Democrats running for attorney general have two different approaches to fundraising. One will use the public campaign system and one won’t.
George Jepsen, the former state legislator and Democratic Party chairman who formally filed his campaign paperwork Thursday, said he plans to participate in the Citizens Election Program, while his opponent, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, said Wednesday that she will raise funds privately.
In a note to supporters, Jepsen said that unlike Bysiewicz he will be participating in the state’s public campaign finance system, which is currently being challenged in a federal appeals court.
This summer U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill struck down the state’s public campaign law saying it was unconstitutional based on its treatment of third party candidates. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal appealed Underhill’s decision to the Second Circuit Court and oral arguments were heard Wednesday.
Since she has been an ardent supporter of the public campaign finance system, news of Bysiewicz’s decision shocked members of her own party and clean election groups like Common Cause.
State Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, called the news “shocking” and “astounding.” He said it is also very disappointing since Bysiewicz, as the chief election official for the state, has been a champion of the issue.
“I will say that I am very disappointed that Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz has decided not to participate in the Citizens’ Election Program,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut, said. “As a long-time proponent of the program, and one of the people in the center of the picture close to Governor Rell at the bill-signing. it is very surprising to me that she would opt out.”
After the cameras were off Wednesday, Bysiewicz said she intends to raise money privately and not participate in the public campaign finance system. She made the statements moments after the press conference where she made the switch from the governor’s race to the attorney general’s race.
“Susan is just as disappointed as everybody else that the program is in jeopardy,” Tanya Meck, Bysiewicz’s campaign spokeswoman, said Thursday.
As recently as last week, Bysiewicz’s campaign filed an amicus brief in favor of the Citizens Election Program with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
The brief argued that the court should keep the system in place for the 2010 election cycle.
“When equity demands, a court should even allow an election based on an unconstitutional scheme to go forward,” Bysiewicz’s lawyers argued in the brief.
Meck said the question Bysiewicz was faced with is “Do I play under the rules I know or do I play under a set of rules that are not defined at all?”
However, when she was exploring a run for governor Bysiewicz signed a pledge to use the public system. Meck said that pledge was very specific and said if the system that exists today is still in place she would support it, but its future is unknown at the moment and there’s been no attempt by the legislature to correct it.
In addition to the pending lawsuit, the legislature has talked about taking away the funding, Meck said.
“I’ve seen a lot of people flip-flop over the years, but this takes the cake,” Lawlor said Thursday.
Lawlor, who was a member of the committee that looked at impeaching former Gov. John G. Rowland, said he had a front row seat to corruption in the state and the Citizens Election Program was one of the ways the legislature sought to fix the problem. He said this program is one of the major public policy accomplishments of the past five years and “you can’t just throw it under the bus.”
“By her doing this, it runs the risk for everybody else not being obligated to do it,” Lawlor said.
“We understand the visceral reaction,” Meck said. “But it’s a completely ludicrous position to be in at this stage in the game.”
She said even if the program survives judicial review, the legislature could take away the funding. The legislature has debated doing just that over the past few months.
There are at least two wealthy candidates exploring a race for governor and if Bysiewicz were still running for governor Lawlor said he could understand possibly not using the public campaign system. But “there’s no indication that’s going to happen in the attorney general’s race,” Lawlor said.