Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie

HARTFORD, CT — There are more candidates running for office in Connecticut this year than any other year and a record number of them are using the Citizens’ Election Program.

So far there have been 317 applications submitted for public financing grants this year. The previous record was 288 in 2014.

In 2010, the first year public financing was used in statewide elections there were 263 applications. Prior to the August 14 primary, there had been a 375 percent increase in the number of statewide primary grants awarded over the 2010 and 2014 cycles.

“The sheer volume of statewide grant applications submitted this year — and all the small-dollar contributions from individuals they represent — is very encouraging from a CEP standpoint,” Michael J. Brandi, executive director and general counsel, for the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said.

But there are still some challenges.

The frontloading of the application process has been difficult for Brandi’s small staff to handle, but it doesn’t explain the increase in participation.

“Campaigns rushed to get in under the wire, as we expected they would,” Brandi said. “But that doesn’t explain the uptick in the numbers of candidates and participation, or the number of women getting grants. Regardless, the success of the CEP this year is undeniable as it is being used by candidates more than ever before.”

In addition to the record number of candidates participating in running for Connecticut’s House, Senate, and constitutional offices, there are a record number of women applying for grants. Of the 243 grants awarded this year, 101 went to female candidates.

The previous high was in 2014 when 80 women applied for and were awarded grants. A total of 115 women applied for grants this year, which represented a 44 percent increase.

Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, who first used the program in 2008 to get elected to the state House, said that public financing helps remove fundraising as a barrier to entry.

In order to qualify for a grant, state House candidates must raise $5,000 and state Senate candidates must raise $15,000 in donations of under $100 to qualify for public financing.

Flexer has 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 in September 2017.

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.

This year, the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor have opted not to use public financing. Instead, Ned Lamont and Bob Stefanowski have decided to use their own money and donations from supporters to fund their campaigns.

That may lower the amount the program gives out in grants this year.

In 2014, $33.4 million was awarded to 288 candidates for statewide office and the General Assembly. At least half or $15.8 million was spent on the governor’s race that year.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was the first governor to be elected using the program in 2010.

The three Republican candidates for governor who used the program this year all lost in the party’s primary.

Republicans, who are largely critical of the program and continually threaten to eliminate it from the budget, have gained seats in both chambers of the General Assembly since the program’s inception.