In 2005, Connecticut was released from the grip of corruption and pay to play scandals by the passage and signing into law of the Citizens’ Election Program. This program has since worked well to free elected officials from reliance on special interest money, and making them accountable directly to the citizens of Connecticut.
Heath Fahle of the Yankee Institute claims taxpayers are forced to pay for candidates’ campaign. His claims are wrong. The Citizens’ Election Program is funded by proceeds from the sale of unclaimed or abandoned property in the state’s custody – not by tax payer dollars. And the people of Connecticut, when asked, would prefer a system like the Citizens’ Election program rather than special interests dominating state campaigns. Public support for Citizens’ elections is strong. A recent poll shows that 79 percent of Connecticut residents support the Citizens’ Election Program (Zogby International poll January 2010).
Perhaps Mr. Fahle has a short memory. The legislature and Governor Rell took the urgently needed steps to counteract the real dangers of the pay –to- play politics of the past by passing the Citizens’ Election Program – the landmark campaign finance law which allows any individual, whether or not they are wealthy or well connected, to run for office after raising qualifying amounts of small dollar, individual donations.
We don’t want millionaires and special interests trying to buy Connecticut elections. We don’t want to go back to the time when we were known as “Corrupticut.” Let’s look at the data. The 2010 elections in Connecticut showed a marked contrast to the 2006 races, especially in one particular area: campaign contributions. In 2006, special interest money from industries such as securities and investment companies, real estate companies, insurance companies, banks, and lawyers bankrolled legislative candidates. Fifty-one percent of the total amount of campaign funds raised came from lobbyists and PACs, with only 47 percent coming from ordinary individuals. That means candidates had to rely on special interests for over half of their campaign funds. In 2010, with the use of the Citizens’ Election Program by over 70 percent of candidates running for state office 97 percent of the total money raised for all state races came from donations from individuals. Candidates were free from reliance on special interests to fund their campaigns, instead gaining funds from small dollar donations from regular people. (Campaign contribution data obtained from the State Elections Enforcement Commission).
Did special interest money win the day in the 2010 elections? No. Clean Elections candidates using small dollar contributions from real people combined with grants from the state won 100 percent of the Constitutional Offices in Connecticut, and 76 percent of the General Assembly seats. Not only did the state of Connecticut win by electing officials who are not beholden to special interests, but the availability of the Citizens’ Election Program increased the level of competition in the 2010 races. 2010 Competitive races for General Assembly seats narrowed the win margin by an average of 15 points over 2006 races. The number of non-incumbent candidates increased in 2010 over previous levels, as well as the number of primary challenges (from the Citizens’ Election 2010 report, State Elections Enforcement Commission).
Simply put, the Citizens’ Election Program increases the level of participation in government both by increasing the number of small dollar contributions from individuals to candidates and increasing the number of people who are able to run competitive races for statewide office.
The Citizens’ Election Program replaced the corrupt pay to play system of the past to a system where candidates don’t have to spend so much time fund-raising from special interests who want something in return for their contributions. The Citizens’ Election program allows elected officials to listen to the voices of everyday citizens, not their corporate sponsors. The Yankee Institute may prefer a return to the past, but we prefer a government of, by, and for the people, not government of, bought, and paid for by special interests.
Cheri Quickmire is the executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut