HARTFORD, CT — It’s not an easy task and fewer than a handful of candidates have ever actually qualified for the public financing in the governor’s race, but there are dozens of candidates aiming to reach those magic numbers before the conventions next May.
The magic qualifying number is $250,000 and at least $225,000 must come from Connecticut donors. The maximum qualifying contribution for those participating in the Citizens Election Program is $100. The candidates who are still in the exploratory phase can receive contributions of up to $375, but most of that money can’t be counted toward the $250,000 total.
Candidates had until July 10 to report their finances to the State Elections Enforcement Commission and many of them waited until the very last minute to file.
On the Democratic side, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo got off to a quick start and raised $143,700 in nine weeks from 1,300 donors.
It’s the first fundraising report for Lembo, who announced his exploratory campaign at the end of April. Lembo’s campaign spokeswoman Marla Romash said it was also the biggest opening quarter for a Democratic exploratory campaign in the history of Connecticut’s public financing system.
“The people of Connecticut are ready for real change to get our economy moving and our government fighting for working families,” Lembo said.
But Lembo wasn’t the only one to post an impressive opening fundraising report.
Chris Mattei, the former federal prosecutor who has been crisscrossing the state visiting Democratic functions for more than two months was able to raise $118,344 from more than 1,000 donors in 10 weeks.
Mattei hired Revolution Messaging, the company that helped U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders capture small donations through the Internet during his presidential bid. The company was founded by Scott Goodstein, who had helped run then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s pioneering online operation in 2008 on his way to the presidency.
The company includes people like Tim Tagaris, who helped Connecticut understand the power of the Internet in 2006 when he helped Ned Lamont defeat then-Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Tagaris is working closely with Mattei’s operation.
Former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, who announced around the same time as Mattei, raised $88,900 from 1,100 donors.
“Our success from day one is a reflection of the broad grassroots support throughout the state, from small towns to big cities across Connecticut,” Harris said. “I look forward to talking with more friends and neighbors in communities throughout the state in the coming months.”
Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, who announced his exploratory bid in January before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced he wouldn’t be running, raised $71,006 over the past quarter. He has raised a total of $177,133 from nearly 2,000 donors since entering the race and is expected to formally announce his entrance into the governor’s race this Wednesday.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who because of his previous felony conviction won’t be allowed to use the Citizens Election Program, raised $36,000 following the launch of his exploratory campaign at the end of April.
The poorest showing on the Democratic side came from Jacey Wyatt of Branford, who raised $400 during the quarter. She now has raised a total of $740 since entering the race. Bethy Guiles, a state employee from Glastonbury, has already ended her campaign and thrown her support behind Lembo.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman has said she would make an announcement about whether she would seek the top spot after Connecticut passes a state budget. Both Lembo and Harris said they would bow out of the race if Wyman decides to run.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced in March that he wasn’t seeking a third term. The seat, which was once considered to lean Democrat, is now being characterized as a “toss up” by the Cook Political report.
And if fundraising is the first test of a candidacy, several Republicans are posting impressive numbers with at least two making it over the $200,000 mark.
Glastonbury Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, who had yet to post his report with the State Elections Enforcement Commission late Monday night, said the second quarter fundraising effort will bring his total up over $205,000, according to a press release.
Surprising even political insiders, the four-term state representative and allergist who has lived and worked in Greater Hartford for more than 30 years, was able to receive nearly half his contributions from outside Hartford County. He said that demonstrates there is support for his candidacy through the state.
Steven Obsitnik, a Westport businessman who also hadn’t filed his report with the SEEC by late Monday night, said in a press release that since February he has raised $201,500 from over 1,700 donors. That means he would have had to raise about $92,800 in the second quarter to add to the $108,700 he raised in the first quarter of the year.
“We had a great 2nd quarter,” Obsitnik said. “I think it’s because people are tired of the same career politicians who have run our state into the ground and want to see a new approach.”
This is Obsitnik’s first run for statewide office. He unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in 2012.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who knows from past experience how hard it is to get to those magic numbers, raised $70,860 in the second quarter. That raises the total in his exploratory effort to $162,000 from 1,760 donors.
“The support we have seen across the state during the exploratory phase has been incredible,” Boughton said. “Our fundraising effort has put our campaign in an exceptionally strong position to qualify by January of 2018.”
Boughton has failed to reach the magic number in the past and is aware the last few quarters will be the hardest.
Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, who is officially a candidate for governor and no longer exploring, raised $65,146 in the second quarter fundraising period, which he gets to add to the $83,444 he raised during the first quarter, bringing his total to $148,790.
An estimated $142,790, or 96 percent of the total raised, will count as qualifying under the Citizens Election Program. A total of 1,644 individual donors, a majority of whom were from Connecticut, gave to Herbst’s campaign.
“Our strong fundraising numbers are a reflection of the tremendous amount of support among Connecticut voters for a proven reformer and Hartford outsider in this race,” Herbst said Wednesday.
Herbst ran for state treasurer in 2014 and was the first Republican to announce his second quarter fundraising results.
Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti also had an impressive first fundraising quarter.
Lauretti, who in early April announced his candidacy for governor, was able to raise $145,000. Lauretti is Fairfield County’s longest serving mayor. He ran for governor in 2014 but didn’t receive enough support at the convention. He tried to become Boughton’s running mate after the Danbury mayor was abandoned by Heather Somers, but was unable to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Dave Walker, the former U.S. Comptroller who ran in 2014 for lieutenant governor, raised $72,156.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who announced her intention to explore a statewide race in February, raised $15,554. And Republican Joe Visconti, who ran as a petitioning candidate in 2014 after collecting enough signatures to get on the ballot — only to withdraw from the race the weekend before the election — raised $2,150.
Another Republican candidate, Peter Lumaj, raised $74,000 this quarter and has brought in a total of $281,130 since he announced his exploratory campaign last year. But most of the money doesn’t count toward the $250,000 goal of running for governor, if that’s the office he chooses.
Candidates are only allowed to count $25,000 in out-of-state funds toward the $250,000. And in the exploratory phase candidates can raise up to $375 per donor, but not all that money counts toward the $250,000.
Lumaj has raised about $79,000 from in-state donors, which is enough to qualify for other statewide positions, such as Secretary of the State, which he ran for in 2014. He came within about 33,000 votes of beating Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill that year.