Hugh McQuaid File Photo
Tom Foley (Hugh McQuaid File Photo)

State elections regulators awarded Tom Foley a $1.35 million public financing grant Wednesday, making the formerly self-funded 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate an official participant in the Citizens Election Program.

Foley, the Republican nominee in 2010 and the candidate endorsed by delegates during this year’s nominating convention, announced in May that he had raised the $250,000 in small donations necessary to qualify for public campaign financing.

He applied for the grant soon after, but the State Elections Enforcement Commission twice declined to approve his application when only about $220,970 of the $264,000 Foley had raised met the standards necessary to qualify.

Regulators’ approval of Foley’s application Wednesday means he will receive $1.35 million to wage a primary campaign against Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, who has submitted a merged application for public financing along with his running mate, Bridgeport Republican David Walker.

The winner of the Aug. 12 primary race will receive a $6.5 million grant to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who in 2010 was the first gubernatorial candidate elected under the public financing system. This year, the SEEC has already approved Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s grant.

Much has changed since 2010, when Malloy narrowly beat Foley by just 6,404 votes. In that race, the Greenwich businessman spent about $11 million of his own funds on the campaign. In 2010, Foley’s campaign manager criticized their primary opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, for participating in the public financing system.

“Most Republicans don’t understand how a candidate for governor whose most important leadership challenge will be reducing government spending can start off by asking taxpayers to pay up to $2.5 million for his primary campaign,” 2010 Foley campaign manager Justin Clark said of Fedele.

This time around, entry into the Citizens’ Election Program has been viewed as essential to making a gubernatorial run. Last month, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton abandoned his primary challenge of Foley when it became clear he would not be able to raise the small donations needed to qualify for public financing.

When Foley announced last year that he would seek a rematch against Malloy, he signaled he would also be seeking to meet the public financing qualifications.

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

However, he didn’t announce his decision to participate until last month, after the Republican nomination convention.

Candidates have until July 18 to qualify for public financing grants. The McKinney/Walker campaign expects to have their application considered at next week’s SEEC meeting on July 10. Like Foley, McKinney has been critical of the state’s public campaign financing system in the past.

When he announced his candidacy last July, McKinney said he still does not support the program. However, he said it is the “law of the land” and the only way for most candidates to seek statewide office.

“For better or for worse, this is the law of the state of Connecticut and unless you’re going to be a self-funded candidate, this is the only way to be a candidate for statewide office,” he said.

In addition to Foley, the SEEC approved public financing grants Wednesday for Attorney General George Jepsen, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Heather Somers, and state Reps. Cecilia Buck-Taylor, Betty Boukus, James Albis, Kim Rose, Doug McCrory, and Auden Grogins.

Regulators also approved grants for the campaigns of Sens. Anthony Musto and Dante Bartolomeo and Rep. Tim Larson’s campaign for state senate. Funds for state representative candidates Michael Meadows, Richard Field, Matthew Waggner, and Anthony Salvatore also were approved.

The SEEC further approved a grant for Ben McGorty, a candidate running in a special election to fill the seat of Rep. Larry Miller, of Stratford, who died in May.