Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to allow publicly funded candidates to raise unlimited supplemental funds received most of the attention dedicated to campaign finance matters this week, but the real news was in the Government Administration and Elections Committee. That committee voted for yet another increase in the funds granted to qualifying gubernatorial candidates.
Connecticut is one of just three states that offers candidates for state offices, such as Governor, State Representative, or Attorney General, to receive government funds for their campaigns if they quality for the system, called the Citizens’ Election Program (CEP).
Under the new proposal, gubernatorial candidates who raise at least $250,000 from individuals contributing between $5 and $100 would receive $2.5 million in state funds for their primary campaign and $9 million for the general election. Though gubernatorial candidates have used the government-funded system for only one election cycle, the action marks the second time that the grant has been increased.
The grant for participating gubernatorial candidates was increased from $3 million to $6 million in August 2010 after it became clear that the Democratic nominee, Dan Malloy, would face GOP candidate Tom Foley, who self-funded $11 million of his campaign’s $12.6 million in spending. All told in 2010, candidates spent $34.5 million running for governor, including $10.9 million in public funds.
The increase to $9 million would further separate public financing from its original objective of reducing the amount of money in political campaigns. In 1990, a mustachioed John Rowland spent $2.8 million on his campaign according to campaign finance documents, or adjusted for inflation to 2010 dollars, $4.6 million. Twenty years later, Malloy received almost twice that amount just in public funds. In Rowland’s best fundraising year, 2002, the $7.8 million (inflation adjusted) he raised will be 15 percent less than what a 2014 gubernatorial candidate could receive for the general election.
Legislators justified the move by noting that publicly-funded candidates needed to be able to compete with those who opt out of the campaign, even though Malloy’s experience demonstrated the extent to which high-spending, opt-out candidates should be feared: he won — twice.
One more point about Malloy’s proposed reform: so-called “good government” groups went crazy at the suggestion of unlimited supplemental funds, and in the context of a world in which state funds comprised nearly 50 percent of all campaign money spent in 2010, unlimited supplemental funds are a crazy concept.
Were we to abolish CEP, however, Malloy might have a point. It is worth remembering the reason that liberal hero Eugene McCarthy was a plaintiff in campaign finance’s most significant Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo.
In 1968, the war in Vietnam reached its bloody peak. A total of 17,296 Americans had lost their lives in that conflict over the preceding four years and 16,592 more were killed — at an average rate of about 45 per day — in 1968 alone. Though protests and other acts of civil disobedience were riling the nation, no presidential candidate captured this sentiment until U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota launched his bid for the Presidency. He came close to defeating incumbent President Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary on the strength of his anti-war message and became an iconic figure for the many Americans who opposed the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
His campaign may well have withered and died had it not been for a very small handful of wealthy donors who invested millions of dollars in his effort. Such are the perils inherent in limiting political speech — important voices are excluded from the political conversation.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com