Re: Suzanne Bates’ op-ed, “Connecticut’s Publicly Funded Campaign Finance System is a Joke”

There is one thing we agree with Suzanne Bates from the Yankee Institute about, “money gets into politics — to influence.”

We would clarify that outside, shadowy, dark money sneaks in to move a mostly unknown agenda that the movers are trying to hide. We have seen a substantial increase in outside spending in Connecticut’s elections because of new loopholes passed last year.

In this past gubernatorial race, more than $16 million dollars was spent on attack ads. Notably, the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations formed SuperPACs which spent huge sums — more than $15 million. One SuperPAC was Connecticut Forward (opposing Tom Foley, supporting Dan Malloy), and the other was Grow Connecticut (opposing Dan Malloy, supporting Tom Foley). This was money that originated from the DGA and RGA. We don’t know where all that money is from, but we will see it when the SuperPACs file their 990s. Amounts of money from other sources, such as labor unions and the NRA, were much smaller.

Where we part ways with Bates is that she and the Yankee Institute never liked the Citizen’s Election Program. So her criticism is no surprise.

But we think an important point to make is that unlike the outside money that we saw flood the gubernatorial race, the Citizens Election funding which goes to qualifying candidates from the Citizens’ Election Program has no agenda.

CEP funds are only available to candidates who qualify by raising small dollar donations, pledging not to take money from PACs or state contractors. They receive a grant from the state and do not raise additional money. The money comes from unclaimed property or escheats and is deposited by the State Treasurer into the CEP on a periodic basis.

The Citizens’ Election Program was passed to stop the pay-to-play culture that dominated our campaign finance system when John G. Rowland served as governor. For several election cycles, the program worked well and candidates had the opportunity to run free of special interest money if they chose to do so.

This cycle, outside money spent in the gubernatorial race and in one state Senate race, has weakened the law and we must strengthen the program to provide candidates additional resources to get their message out in the face of outside funders. We also have to block candidates from coordinating with outside spenders by raising money for these entities.

Common Cause opposed efforts by the Democratic State Central Committee to petition the FEC to pre-empt state law barring money raised in violation of Citizens Election Program to be used to support a Malloy candidacy. We believe that the mailer in question was a Malloy mailer, not a get-out-the-vote piece that could be funded by the federal account.

We also opposed the Democratic Governors’ Association’s efforts to change the rules midstream to try to keep elections enforcement from investigating whether they coordinated with the Malloy campaign.

We can and should close these loopholes in the law that allow candidates to circumvent the Citizens Election program.

This is a reform worth protecting. When you ask citizens which they would prefer — candidates who run free of special interest money or candidates who raise funds from special interests — they prefer candidates who represent the people’s interests, rather than special interests.

Cheri Quickmire is the executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut

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