Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Senate President Martin Looney holds up a direct mail piece against Sen. Steve Cassano (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — There’s nothing illegal about what this political action committee is doing by spending money against certain state Senate candidates, but it’s still objectionable Senate Democratic leadership says.

Senate President Martin Looney said they are just “pulling back the curtain,” to expose the individuals behind the hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending, which “undermines our public financing.”

The independent expenditure group that has been targeting several state Senate races is Change Connecticut, which just received an additional $400,000 donation from the Republican State Leadership Committee bringing the total amount of money the group intends to spend in Connecticut up to $800,000.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, is a Washington D.C.-based 527 group that receives money from thousands of large corporations like Wal-Mart and the Koch Brothers Inc.

According to past records, the top five donors to the Republican State Leadership Committee in 2016 were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Reynolds American, Las Vegas Sands, Altria Group, and Amway/Alticor. The family of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also given $200,000 to the group. The RSLC discloses its donations to the IRS, along with all other standing political committees.

The group has spent $64,216 in opposition to Rep. Matt Lesser’s state Senate bid, $55,347 opposing Sen. Steve Cassano’s re-election, $61,989 opposing Norm Needleman who is vying for Sen. Art Linares seat in the 33rd district, and $53,694 opposing James Maroney who is vying for Sen. Gayle Slossberg’s seat in a district that includes Milford, Orange, and West Haven.

William O’Reilly, a spokesman with Change Connecticut, said “The public deserves to know who raised their taxes to unreasonable, backbreaking levels. These legislators clearly don’t want the truth known. If they were proud of their tax votes, they wouldn’t be protesting. That’s the bottom line.”
Cassano, who has been targeted by similar groups in his last four elections, said “people from the rest of the country shouldn’t be effecting what’s going on in my senate district. My district is not for sale.”

But this outside spending is about more than their legislative records, Looney said.

He said spending like this aims to erode Connecticut’s public financing laws.

He said these groups realize Connecticut’s Citizens Election Program is a good target because they know they can spend more than the public grant.

He said they know how much a publicly financed candidate will be able to spend and how much more they need to spend in order to defeat them.

“They know if they spend $100,000, they’re doubling the budget on a senate race,” Looney said.

He said so far the group has spent $229,566 on polling, $66,030 on consulting, $118,637 on ads, $173,216 mailers, $30,000 in compensation for staff, $121,881 on research, and $29,285 on legal fees.

Looney said Republicans can try to distance themselves from President Donald Trump, but “they are gleefully accepting campaign cash from the most extreme right wing of their party.”

He said the spending, while legal is pernicious, and should not be legal, but for the Citizens United decision in 2010 which is a “plague upon our political system in the country.”

He added: “slavery was legal at one point.”

Democratic leadership in the House already filed an election complaint against the group back in August when the group was doing some research and determining which races it planned to target.

Jason Doucette, a House candidate, has filed a complaint against the same group and so has Common Cause of Connecticut.

The Republican Party is quick to point out that unions are also spending big in this election cycle, Connecticut Values, which is a union based group has raised $95,000 and has spent money against Republican state Senate candidates and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski. The SEIU State Council PAC has raised $15,500, but has not spent any money yet. The Service Employees International Union has also spent more than $247,000 on canvassing for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont. 

Democratic Senate candidates like Mary Abrams who is running against Sen. Len Suzio, Julie Kushner who is running against Sen. Michael McLachlan, Jorge Cabrera who is running against Sen. George Logan, and Vickie Nardello who is running for Sen. Joe Markley’s open seat have also benefited from spending by the Service Employees International Union. The candidates have received between $10,000 to $25,000 in canvassing help for their races.

This is not the first time Democrats have complained about an independent expenditure group.

Two years ago, Grow Connecticut, which was run by Liz Kurantowicz, received $350,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee to target House and Senate races. The group targeted 3 Senate races, and 10 House races.

In 2016, independent expenditure groups spent more than $1.4 million on more than a dozen General Assembly seats..

The election resulted in Republicans picking up 8 seats in the House and drawing even with Democrats in the Senate.

Senate Democrats complain about outside spending but are not filing complaint

Posted by on Wednesday, October 17, 2018