First it was the state’s largest business lobby. Now it’s smaller special interests groups who are harnessing the power of so-called “independent expenditures.”
The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters announced this week that they have endorsed 14 candidates in the Senate and 34 in the House. Their endorsements cut across party lines and are focused on what candidates will do for the environment.
Several of the group’s top environmental champions are being targeted for defeat by interests with big dollars to spend, according to the group. In response, CTLCV has created its own Political Action Committee to promote a strong bipartisan slate of endorsed candidates for voters to consider in November.
“If you care about the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the wonderful parks and landscapes in Connecticut, then pay close attention to what candidates are saying about environmental issues,” David Bingham, chair of CTLCV, said in a statement.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association announced last month that they plan on supporting 15 candidates with about $400,000 to see if they can make a difference in the outcome of some targeted races.
Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said the endorsement comes with door-knocking support and some literature. She declined to say how much they were going to be spending, but joked that it’s far less than CBIA. As of Sept. 14 the group had raised about $13,000, according to a report it has to file with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Brown said they plan on making sure voters know which candidates will vote in favor of environmental issues and at the same time they will also be vocal about the ones who aren’t as friendly when it comes to the environment.
Planned Parenthood Votes!—another group making independent expenditures—announced its endorsements earlier this month.
“We are making endorsements for the first time in Connecticut.,” Planned Parenthood Board Chair Chris Corcoran, said. “Our decision was based in part by the national dialogue where access to women’s health care is under fire.”
The Realtors PAC, which has about $256,000 in cash available are expected to be active in supporting candidates this year too.
But the list of independent expenditure groups expected to be active this year seems to have grown.
There’s Charters Care, a group chaired by Jeremiah Grace, who is the state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, and Change Course CT, a group chaired by an employee of Democrats for Education Reform.
And there’s also labor groups planning to make expenditures this year too, like Labor United for CT, which is chaired by Paul Filson, political director of SEIU 1199.
A majority of candidates use Connecticut’s Citizens Election Program in order to get elected, but will still be allowed to receive money from these independent groups because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
These types of independent expenditures were first made back in 2012 by a man named Thomas Peterffy, who was the lone donor to a group called Voters for Good Government. That same year, a special interest education group affiliated with the controversial school-reform advocate Michelle Rhee backed state Rep. Brandon McGee in his race against a former teacher’s union vice president.
Rhee’s group spent about $42,000 on the Democratic primary for a new seat representing parts of Hartford and Windsor and McGee was elected. McGee, who as a clean election candidate was not able to coordinate with the group, bristled at the notion that they were responsible for his victory since he didn’t really have a say in what the group decided to do on his behalf.
Democratic lawmakers, who championed the creation of the public finance system, decried the independent expenditures being made in 2012 and then changed the law in 2013 to increase the amount of money individuals could give to a party from $5,000 to $10,000 and made it possible for the party to give unlimited amounts of money to clean election candidates.
It seems as though this year special interest groups are looking for an edge in an unpredictable election season where there are 23 open seats, including 21 in the House and two in the Senate.
There’s been no change in state law that is responsible for the increased use of independent expenditures, but special interest groups seem to be catching on to their use this election cycle, according to a spokesman from the State Elections Enforcement Commission.