State Elections Enforcement Commission Chair Anthony Castagno said the SEEC is “troubled” by this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision removing aggregate campaign contribution caps, but is confident Connecticut’s public financing system will “withstand” the decision.
In its ruling this week on McCutcheon v. FEC, the nation’s high court struck down restrictions on the total contributions one individual can make to candidates, political parties, or PACs during an election cycle.
Castagno said the SEEC is reviewing how the decision will impact Connecticut campaign finance law, but believes it “further erodes our country’s founding principles that the government exists for all the people, not just a few.”
However, Castagno said the state public campaign finance system still contains strong disclosure requirements and rules on fundraising for the candidates who use it.
“With almost 80 percent of our legislature and 100 percent of constitutional officers elected without special interest money, Connecticut’s campaign finance system can withstand decisions like McCutcheon,” he said.
Castagno said the system is threatened by “intrusive” U.S. Supreme Court decisions. He pointed to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations, unions, and special interest groups to funnel unlimited funds into political campaigns. He said the McCutcheon decision is “another step down that road.”
At a protest in October, activists associated with Connecticut’s labor unions and government watchdog and environmental groups warned that McCutcheon could be “the next Citizens United.”
Some of those advocates released statements this week criticizing the court’s ruling on the case.
“The people of Connecticut know from our own painful experience what happens when sensible limits on political spending are cast aside,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Connecticut Common said. The “decision invites a new wave of corruption here and across the country and demonstrates again how out of touch the Roberts Court is with the real world of politics — the one in which big money buys big returns.”
Before the decision the aggregate limit for the two-year election cycle stood at $123,200 — more than twice the average household income in the U.S. In 2012. Only 1,219 donors came within 10 percent of hitting the aggregate limit.
Research from U.S. PIRG and Demos projects suggests that now that the aggregate limit has been struck down, this same set of 1,219 donors will more triple their gifts to $459.3 million.
“The last thing we need right now is to increase the giving of the donors with the deepest pockets,” Abe Scarr, director of the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, said. “It’s time to amend the Constitution to overturn the Court’s wrong-headed decisions permitting a handful of millionaires and corporate interests to dominate our elections.”