The $40.7 billion Republican budget eliminates the Citizens Election Program, which amounts to fifty eight thousandths of the two-year budget.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission, which oversees the program, sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Friday asking him to veto the budget because elimination of the clean election program “is not a budget issue.”
“The elimination of the CEP is a systemic re-writing of the way that Connecticut’s government functions for its citizens,” the commissioners wrote. “Currently, elected officials are free to choose to accept only small dollar donations from citizens, most of whom live in their district and none of whom are state contractors or lobbyists giving to them during session. Politicians are free to spend time talking with constituents at grassroots events in their homes rather than dialing for dollars to those people and PACs that are able to give them large and repeated cash donations.”
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he was one of a few Republican Senators who voted for the program back in 2005.
“We did a pretty good bill, but since then there’s been an eroding of the campaign system,” Fasano said.
He referenced the changes that were made in 2013 that allowed more money into the system. The 2013 changes included allowing political parties to donate unlimited amounts of money to candidates participating in the system and it doubled the amount of money an individual can give to State Central Committees from $5,000 to $10,000.
Fasano said the loopholes the Democratic Party pushed through with its majority have damaged the program.
He said it allowed Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. to receive an additional $207,000 to use in its race against Republican Bruce Wilson in 2014. Kennedy was a clean election candidate and also qualified to receive a $94,690 grants through the Citizens Election Program.
The SEEC investigation into those contributions and whether they were legal is still ongoing.
Fasano said he would happily vote to preserve the campaign finance system he first voted for in 2005.
“If they don’t want to do it when we’re broke, then it’s just a farce,” Fasano said.
Democratic legislators rallied last week to call on Malloy to veto the budget and save the Citizens Election Program.
Eliminating the program would save the state $23.4 million in 2018 and $11.4 million in 2019.
Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, in defense of the budget on the House floor, said they want good governance and they want democracy in action, but “unfortunately with a $5 billion budget deficit this was one of the choices we had to make.”
In support of the program, Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said the Citizens Election Program hasn’t only changed who can run for office in Connecticut, it’s changed how the state Capitol functions. Lawmakers feel they are able to focus more on their constituents, while paying less attention to special interests.
“It’s taken the power away from lobbyists and special interests and put it back in the hands of the people,” Flexer said.
Connecticut’s General Assembly was able to approve the system on a bipartisan basis in 2005 after former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland was sent to prison on corruption charges. Former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who succeeded Rowland, signed it into law.
In their letter to Malloy the five SEEC commissioners wrote that “Eliminating the CEP sets us right back on the course that we were on before: wrestling with corruption, cascading toward financial ruin, and failing to make the hard choices that Connecticut requires.”
Malloy has promised to veto the budget once it reaches his desk.