TierneyMJ via Shutterstock

HARTFORD, CT — Republicans have scored big when it comes to outside political spending on Connecticut’s election this year. According to two watchdog groups, an estimated 80 percent of the roughly $6 million spent so far by outside super PACs is going to Republicans.

Most of that outside money was spent by the Protect Freedom PAC in support of Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski during the five-way primary battle that ended in August. The PAC has not spent a dollar on the campaign since.

Protect Freedom PAC, which has not returned our calls for comment, accounts for about 83 percent of all super PAC donations in Connecticut in 2018. The group has reported conflicting information to state regulators regarding the total amount of donations. It has either raised and spent $2.1 million or $1.2 million.

If it’s the higher amount, then Republican PACs have raised 34 times the $170,000 raised by Democratic PACs. If it’s the lower amount, then it’s still 29 times what Democratic PACs have raised. The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) has thus far been unable to verify the exact amount.

Connecticut has a clean election system, but the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case has allowed millions of dollars in outside PAC money to influence Connecticut’s elections.

Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group teamed up to analyze 19 super PACs participating in this election cycle in Connecticut and the spending they’ve done through Oct. 11.

“The increased use of Super PACs by wealthy interests will create a level of corruption worse than the Rowland administration if we are not vigilant,” Tom Swan, executive director of CCAG, said. “This report is a significant step to arming the citizens of Connecticut with the information they need to decipher what is happening. We will continue to monitor Super PAC activity and to fight to protect the principle of one person, one vote.”

The information in the report is based on what the PACs submitted to the SEEC, which gave out its last public grants for the 2018 election last week.

Based on that data, about four out of five dollars in donations to Connecticut super PACs have gone to Republican PACs that are affiliated with the Republican Party or are targeting ads in support of individual Republican candidates.

Contributions from only 11 donors account for more than 90 percent of all donations to Connecticut super PACs thus far in 2018. National PACs contribute the largest share of income, followed by individual donations.

Contributions from business trade associations, like the Connecticut Association of Realtors, make up the third-largest share of contributions.

The five largest Connecticut super PACs are Change Connecticut PAC, which is funded mostly by the Republican State Leadership Committee. Then there’s Change PAC, which is funded by the Republican Governors Association. The group has raised $2.6 million in its effort to elect Stefanowski. Most of the money — about 90 percent — has been spent on advertising against Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ned Lamont.

Change PAC has raised 21 times more than its Democratic counterpart, Our Connecticut PAC, which is funded by the Democratic Governors Association. Our Connecticut PAC has raised $125,000 and has spent most of the money on research and consulting. The Democratic Legislative Leadership Committee has also raised $45,000 in support of Democratic candidates.

That brings the total super PAC spending in favor of Democratic candidates up to $170,000.

Protect Freedom PAC is operated by a national PAC with the same name. It has received the vast majority of its funding from wealthy individual donors. Combining expenditures from Change PAC and Protect Freedom PAC, Stefanowski has benefited from $3.4 million in targeted super PAC spending.

Stefanowski has had more money spent on his behalf from super PACs than his campaign has raised from individuals.

The practice is totally legal, but Swan and Cheri Quickmire of Common Cause in Connecticut say it circumvents Connecticut election laws and allows donors to hide their donations.

“This circumvention of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws is a reminder of how much Republicans will cheat to win these days — whether it be funneling money through pass-through PACs, voter suppression strategies, or colluding with foreign governments, it ain’t my father’s Republican Party,” Swan said.

FixCT PAC raised $145,000 and focused its support on Steve Obsitnik in the Republican primary. It spent more than $132,500 in support of Obsitnik. The PAC and Obsitnik’s campaign are both being investigated by the SEEC.

Realtors for Connecticut PAC was formed and is run directly by the Connecticut Association of Realtors, which contributed all of its $604,420 in income. Last week the group endorsed Stefanowski, who will likely be the benefactor of most of that money in the coming days. The National Association of Realtors Fund has also spent $126,202.

Tim DeVanney, who chairs the Stronger CT PAC, said they raised about $20,000 from business interests in the state “to make sure the voice of Connecticut business is heard and can be effective in some way.”

The group is spending money on digital advertising in support of Reps. Pat Boyd, John Hampton, Melissa Ziobron, Pam Staneski, and Sens. Michael McLachlan and Joan Hartley. They are also spending in support of Adam Greenberg, who is running as the Republican candidate in the 12th state Senate district. Boyd, Hampton, and Hartley are Democratic incumbents, but they are considered fiscally conservative and friendly to business. The rest are Republicans.

Other officers named include Joseph Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Many of the donors to the Stronger CT PAC are lobbyists at the state Capitol.

For critics who believe the unions often spend more money on these elections, the analysis by Swan and Quickmore showed the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) spent $332,405 through their October 10 report. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent $75,195.

There is also 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.

Swan said he doesn’t expect the unions to come in with any last-minute cash infusion for any candidates.

“There’s no sign that labor is going to weigh in in a manner that comes anywhere close to what the Republicans have done,” Swan said.

Under the Citizens Election Program signed into law by former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Republicans have picked up seats in both the House and the Senate every year since the program started back in 2008.

Under Connecticut law, super PACs must disclose their donors, but for the TV viewer or the voter who receives a mailer or sees a Facebook ad, it might not always be obvious who is speaking.