The budget agreed to by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislators destroys the State Elections Enforcement Commission and the landmark Citizens’ Election Program. 

Dismantling the State Elections Enforcement Commission is completely unjustified and will undoubtedly produce poor election oversight and call into serious question the integrity of the entire process. No other jurisdiction having a clean elections law allows a partisan elected official to administer grants to candidates. 

In 2005, the legislature in its wisdom vested in the State Elections Enforcement Commission as the authority to administer the Citizen Election Fund and Program. The passage of the Citizens’ Election Program was a historic measure and is one of the most far-reaching packages of reform that had ever come in front of the Connecticut legislature or indeed in front of any legislature of the United States of America.

In one fell swoop, and for miniscule savings, the independence and strength of the watchdog agencies and the public’s confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and in its elected officials has been eviscerated. 

Under this proposal the Citizens’ Election Program will become nothing more than an ATM system for candidates. Minus accountability.

Are the Governor and the legislature seeking more than savings and consolidation? This proposal does give the appearance of seeking to hold all of the power – while being accountable to no one. 

How will this new structure work? Currently, SEEC staff is required to review and determine within four days the eligibility of a grant. The Commission then approves, denies or continues a grant application. 

Connecticut’s Election Enforcement Commission enjoys a distinguished history as a non-partisan agency that enforces the state’s campaign finance laws without regard to party affiliation or electoral status. 

Under this proposed structure a partisan elected official would make the determination and not an independent bi-partisan Commission. Moreover, an elected partisan official, the Secretary of the State, who received public campaign funds in this past election, will have exclusive decision making authority over which candidates receive funds. Conflict of interest—absolutely; the Connecticut clean election system in one stroke of the Governor’s pen will switch from model to mockery.

In 2010, 253 applications were submitted, each submission contained between 200 and 400 contributions and the average statewide application contained between 1,000 and 1,500 contributions. 

How will seasonal employees acquire the knowledge and experience to determine the eligibility of these applications? Under the proposed structure – grant reviews will lack thoroughness or perhaps they will not be reviewed at all. 

The integrity of the program will be destroyed.

Absent the proper safeguards and oversight who would have the courage to sign off on a six million dollar grant for governor? Even a denial of a grant to a candidate for a different office or a party different from that of the Secretary of the State is bound to hinder credibility of the program. Partisan political judgments, both real and perceived, must not interfere with the administration of such an important program. 

In 2005 when this sweeping reform was passed the General Assembly got it right, and should not change what is not broken. 

Connecticut’s elected officials have been through enough embarrassment and controversy and the public demanded reform. In 2005, our courageous elected leaders, including Senate President Donald Williams and then House Speaker James Amann brought upon a fundamental change in our democracy, a process that works to ensure that candidates run campaigns free of special interest money. 

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has and should continue to be part of the solution to the grave fiscal situation that the governor and legislature confront.  Savings can be achieved through economies of scale and sharing fiscal and budgetary personnel with other watchdogs.

Notably, the Commission worked with members of the General Assembly during this session and delivered a proposal that not only provided the fiscal savings that the governor was seeking, it also provided for consolidation that maintained the autonomy and independence of government watchdog agencies. 

The legislature should adopt the watchdog’s plan to achieve such savings.

I urge you to reconsider the current proposal and to maintain this Commission as a separate, distinct, fair and impartial and effective watchdog over the electoral process and the Citizens’ Election Program.  In these difficult times, maintaining a commitment to open, honest government that is protected and free from political influence and the need for the public confidence in our elected officials and governmental institutions is more important than ever.

Stephen Cashman is the chairman of the State Elections Enforcement Commission.