Former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy came out swinging Wednesday when he told a packed room of municipal leaders exactly what he thought about his gubernatorial campaign opponents’ decision to fund their own campaigns.

“Mr. Foley, Mr. Lamont, fund it yourself. Just live with the same limitations that other people are living with,“ Malloy said.

Malloy, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, made the remarks Wednesday at a bipartisan candidates’ debate.

Malloy took aim at Republican Tom Foley and Democrat Ned Lamont for bankrollling their own campaigns and probably staying out of the state’s new public financing system. Malloy is participating in that system. That means he must reach a threshold of small donations of of $100 or less to qualify for a taxpayer-funded grant of $1.25 million for the primary and $3 million for the general election.

In the end Malloy said he believes the voting public will reject independently wealthy candidates who choose to fund their own campaigns.

Some of the candidates who attended the debate in Cromwell Wednesday believe there is a value in asking people for campaign contributions. The debate revealed a range of views on minimums and taxpayer funding.

Tom Foley, one of the four Republicans candidates for governor, has already given $2 million of his own money to his campaign.

“The old system worked fine,” Foley said Wednesday. “For anyone to say a governor would be unduly influenced by somebody who contributed $3,500 … says more about that candidate than the system.”

“Raising money is a very important part of the political process,” Foley said. “It weeds people out who aren’t successful at it and it helps candidates hone their message. If you can‘t persuade people to part with a little bit of money to help you on your campaign then that‘s probably telling you something about your status as a candidate.”

Ned Lamont, one of seven Democrats exploring a run for governor, said given the fact that not all of the 11 candidates running for governor are participating in the public campaign finance system he’s “reserving the right to opt out.”

Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, who was not part of the debate Wednesday because he just recently announced his candidacy, said he won’t be participating in the public finance system. While Marsh doesn’t have any of his own money to contribute, he also doesn’t think the candidates should be using the millions of dollars in taxpayer money to fund their campaign when there’s a state budget deficit, he said.

“I can’t understand how they can say we’re in trouble, but I’ll take some of that,” Marsh said following the debate.

Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, who supports the public system, said the state funds are not tax dollars. It’s money that comes from the sale of abandoned state property. And he likes the system because he knows what it’s like to work under the old system.

“It allows the candidates to be out there speaking to constituents about issues that are going on instead of going out every other night trying to raise money, talking to people who are going to vote for them anyway,” Fedele told the crowd.

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman, and state Sen. Gary LeBeau also support the public system.

“I’d rather have everybody give me $10 or $20 or $100 instead of having thousand dollar donations or donations from large corporations or even political action committees and labor unions,“ LeBeau said. “That spreads it out, that democratizes the situation.”

Glassman agreed. She said she wouldn’t be in the race if it weren’t for the public campaign finance system.

“I think it’s an opportunity for candidates like me who are not millionaires but have a lot of good ideas and want to work hard to be able to explore a run for governor,” Glassman said. “It is absolutely essential that we allow candidates to get into this race who can’t self finance.”

Marconi said he also wouldn’t be in the race if it weren’t for the public financing system.

“I think it is extremely critical that our country, that our state begin to look at how political offices are being bought and that’s it,” he said.

“If we don’t have public finance, the individuals who have the fifty millions, the ten millions, the sixteen millions are gonna be the ones that are purchasing the elected offices.  That’s why we need public financing,” Marconi said.

Most of the candidates agreed that the state’s fiscal problems are serious and that being governor during this time of crisis is an opportunity. Some floated their big ideas,
some of their big ideas, which for Marconi means highway tolls, and for LeBeau means angel investor tax credits.

Former House Speaker James Amann was stuck at the airport and unable to get to Cromwell in time for the debate, which was hosted by the Council of Small Towns.

Chase Carnot contributed to this report