Christine Stuart photo
Tom Foley announces he’s exploring bid for governor in 2014 at community center in Bridgeport (Christine Stuart photo)

BRIDGEPORT — In an attempt to rid himself of the self-funding millionaire image, Republican Tom Foley announced Tuesday that he would explore a race for governor under the public campaign finance system that he panned three years ago.

Foley, who lost to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy by less than one percentage point in 2010, said he plans to qualify for public financing, but he’s still undecided if he will take it or not.

“Why should I pay for my own campaign?” Foley said. “I know I can, but why should I?”

Foley, chairman of NTC Group and a Greenwich resident, said he’s being criticized for contributing about $10 million to his own campaign in 2010. He said what people forget is that he raised close to $3 million of other people’s money.

“I want to show I can qualify for public financing, just like others,” Foley said.

The one other Republican candidate, Sen. John McKinney, is using public financing, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Sen. Toni Boucher, who are exploring runs for governor, are also utilizing the public financing system.

Those exploring a run for governor can raise up to $375 from individuals, but only $100 would count toward the $250,000 a candidate must raise in order to qualify. A candidate will receive up to $1.25 million for the primary and $6 million for the general election through the Citizens’ Election Program.

“They’ve made the rules in Connecticut so that you pretty much can’t win unless you take the public financing or you write a huge check of your own,” Foley said. “You cannot go out and raise enough money in the traditional way.”

He said the $6 million grant is more money than any governor raised before the public financing system. Malloy was the first governor elected under the system.

“Nobody will ever be elected governor, from now on I’ll predict, from using the traditional way without supplementing them with their own funds,” Foley said.

Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr., who attended Foley’s announcement, said he’s not prepared to opine on whether candidates can’t win unless they use the public financing system.

Republicans largely oppose the idea of using taxpayer money for campaigns, but most Republican legislators in the General Assembly used the public finance system to win their elections.

Christine Stuart photo
Tom Foley (Christine Stuart photo)

Former Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, who also attended Foley’s announcement, said Foley already has enough statewide name recognition, so it’s probably smart to use the Citizens’ Election Program. He said there are limits on what candidates can raise outside the program.

A candidate is allowed to raise $3,500 from individuals and $5,000 from Political Action Committees outside the Citizens’ Election Program.

“Four years ago it was ‘you’re trying to buy the governorship’ now it’s ‘why won’t you use your own money?’,” Healy said. “I would prefer to have every option open, but it’s his money. You’re limited in what you can raise when you go outside the system.”

Healy said the one salient benefit to playing by the public campaign finance rules is that a candidate gets a lot of donors willing to give $10, $20, or $30 to a candidate. Those donations help a candidate build a network of supporters, he said.

Labriola said the Republican Party has created a governor’s trust fund to raise money for whichever Republican candidate emerges victorious to challenge Malloy. Under the new campaign finance law passed this June by the legislature, individuals can give up to $10,000 to the state party and the party can give an unlimited amount to a gubernatorial candidate, even if that candidate is participating in the Citizens’ Election Program.

However, no matter where the money for the campaign comes from, “Dan Malloy is very beatable,” Healy said.

Foley acknowledged without giving too much of his strategy away that he plans to focus on the state’s cities, which gave Malloy his 6,404-vote margin of victory in 2010.

“The fate of our cities will be the fate of our state,” Foley said.

But it’s also a political calculation. The Democratic Party machines in cities like New Haven and Bridgeport and Hartford gave Malloy enough votes to claim victory. Foley acknowledged that he needs votes in those cities in order to win in 2014.

“I think my message and just as importantly Gov. Malloy’s record will mean if we have the same amount of money and I get in this race, I’ll win,” Foley said.

In his prepared remarks Foley pointed out that Connecticut has acquired an “embarrassing and painful list of worsts and lasts.”

He said that’s part of the reason he held Tuesday’s announcement in Bridgeport. After joking that it’s not because he’s still looking for that missing bag of ballots from 2010, he pointed to the unemployment rate in the city, the statewide tax increase Malloy implemented in 2011, and the rest of Malloy’s “progressive agenda.”

“The failure of the governor’s agenda falls hardest on the residents of cities such as Bridgeport who already were suffering from high crime rates, too few jobs, the impact of corruption, and underperforming schools,” Foley said. “Now, Gov. Malloy has added to that list of woes large tax increases on middle income families and policies that are driving the tax base and businesses out of our state.”

The statements kept staffers at the Connecticut Democratic Party headquarters busy most of the day. Malloy’s former senior adviser Roy Occhiogrosso was busy on Twitter defending his former boss’s record.

“We are having great difficulty working our way through Tom Foley’s prepared remarks from earlier today,” a Democratic Party press release says. “They should’ve been titled, ‘Connecticut is the Worst Place in the World, and Everything is Dan Malloy’s fault’.” 

Foley accused Malloy of implementing a failed economic policy on job creation, even though the number of jobs has grown during Malloy’s tenure. Under Malloy’s administration, the private sector in Connecticut has created nearly 50,000 jobs, Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris pointed out Monday in a press release.

Foley pointed to Jackson Laboratory and the state’s $291 million investment, which he said works out to be about $1 million per job.

“A million dollars a job is somewhere between crazy and stupid,” Foley said.