In the last few weeks before Election Day, Super PACs and special interest groups have poured around $577,000 into state House and Senate races.
The money has been spent on TV, online and radio ads, as well as mailers, phone calls to voters, and canvassing. And while the money flows to both sides of the aisle, much of it seems aimed in opposition to sitting Democratic lawmakers.
The influx of funds into the state has many on the Left cringing and decrying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made it all possible.
Citizens United allowed corporations and individuals to make expenditures on behalf of candidates without mentioning where the organizations got the money. The U.S. Supreme Court then shot down the trigger provisions in the public finance law which gave publicly funded candidates more money if a wealthy opponent or group spent money in opposition of their candidacy, giving publicly financed candidates little, if any, chance to respond to attack ads.
On the eve of Election Day, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Connecticut’s top election official, said the ramifications of that decision are being felt in the last few days of the election.
“Virtually everything I ever imagined could happen in an election has already happened and we aren’t even there yet,” said Merrill, who’s spent much of the last week trying to ensure the state’s polling places were online following a devastating hurricane.
“I’ve just never seen the kind of money that’s been spent in this election and I think it’s a direct result of the Supreme Court cases that have allowed additional independent expenditures and corporations as people and these kinds of things. They’re having an immediate impact,” she said. “… Connecticut has certainly felt it.”
Merrill said Congress should do something to curb the influence of new money in elections. People are tired of the constant negative political ads that have dominated the airwaves this season, she said.
Rep. Russ Morin, the House chairman of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, said that much of what people feared could come from the Citizens United decision has come to pass in Connecticut and there isn’t much state lawmakers can do about it.
“It’s something that’s really reared its head and whether I like it or not is irrelevant,” Morin said.
Earlier in the year lawmakers drafted and passed legislation that would have strengthened the state’s disclosure laws so it would be clearer who was funding political attack ads. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed the bill, saying it was too broad and would have had unintended consequences for those communicating with elected officials 90 days before an election. He also cited instances where it could violate the constitution.
This year PACs spending in Connecticut seem to be disclosing their donors, so the vetoed legislation wouldn’t have done much to change how the election has played out. For his part, Morin said he could still do without all the extra money in the state’s elections.
Morin said the influx of negative TV ads have been detrimental to the state and its residents.
“I don’t think it’s good for our process or our citizens to have to listen to that,” he said.
He isn’t alone in that sentiment. During an AARP conference call with U.S. Senate candidate Chris Murphy, a Hamden voter who identified herself as Cheryl told the candidate she was fed up with negative ads by both he and his Republican opponent Linda McMahon.
“I have truly grown weary of the negative and bad-mouthing television advertisements to the point of not listening anymore. Listening to those would not lead me to vote for either of you. I just want them to stop,” she said.
Even if folks are sick of watching attack ads, some conservatives argue the new expenditures help offset the money and ground support labor unions have given to Democrats for years.
In early October, Senate Republican leader John McKinney argued as much, saying it was strange that Democrats suddenly had a problem with people other than candidates spending in elections.
“Now that there are other independent expenditures in play that can match or maybe exceed union expenditures, now they’re expressing concern,” McKinney said.
In recent weeks a substantial amount of money has been spent by a group called Voters for Good Government. The group’s top five donors, the only ones it has to disclose, includes Thomas Peterffy, a Hungarian-born immigrant who now lives in Greenwich.
Voters for Good Government has spent money both in opposition to sitting Democrats and in support of Republican candidates.
Liz Kurantowicz, the former chief of staff for the Connecticut Republican Party and managing director of Voters for Good Government, said the group has spent money in opposition to Democratic Sens. Andrew Maynard, Steve Cassano, and Ed Meyer. It’s also spent in support of Republican Sens. John Kissel and Len Suzio. They’ve also been supporting Republican Chris Coutu, who’s running for the senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Edith Prague.
They have also spent money on an open House seat in the 33rd District as well as in opposition to Prospect Democrat Rep. Vickie Nardello.
Maynard, who last week was surveying storm damage in his town of Stonington, said he didn’t know why he’d been the target of a TV ad from the group. The ad points to votes he took to raise taxes and says among other things, that he’s been tough on businesses.
Maynard said he considers his voting record to be pro-business and speculated the group was picking Democrats they thought were vulnerable as targets.
Kurantowicz said her goal was actually to point out where Democrats made bad choices and where Republicans have made good ones.
“I have no doubt Andy Maynard is a good guy, but good guys make bad votes and he’s made a lot of them,” she said.
That said, Kurantowicz acknowledged there is a certain amount of vulnerability assessment in determining which districts to spend money in. She said the group would like to support all Republicans who have voted to keep taxes down and shore up the economy but doesn’t have the resources to spend in every district.
“You look at electoral history and you see where there’s soft ground and opportunity,” she said.
But the spending so late in the game has been upsetting to Democrats, most of whom are publicly financed, many without enough funds left to respond. In a press release issued over the weekend, House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey decried the spending against Nardello as an attempt to overwhelm the public finance system and buy a House seat.
“I am confident that the voters of the district will see through this cynical ploy to buy this seat, and return Vickie Nardello to the General Assembly,” Sharkey said.
Christine Stuart and Tikeyah Whittle contributed to this report.