Rep. Harry Arora talks to Mary Ann Turner before his nomination for state treasurer Credit: Christine Stuart photo / CTNewsJunkie

State Rep. Harry Arora became the first candidate in this year’s race for state treasurer to qualify for a public campaign financing grant, putting the Republican in a position to begin spending money as Democrats compete in a three-way primary.

Arora, an investment manager from Greenwich, won the Republican endorsement at the party’s convention last month to run for the position being vacated by Shawn Wooden, the current state treasurer. Wooden, a Democrat from Hartford, is not seeking another term.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission awarded Arora a $968,250 grant this week as part of Connecticut’s public-financed campaign program, designed to reduce the influence of special interests in state campaigns.

“Our campaign was approved for the state election grant earlier this month,” Arora said in a post to his campaign website. “The grant provides ample resources for the campaign and concludes our fundraising (the state election grant is given on the premise that we cannot raise any additional funds).”

Democrats have endorsed Erick Russell of New Haven, a former vice chair of the state party. However, two other candidates are seeking to win the spot in an August primary. They are Dita Bhargava of Greenwich and Karen DuBois-Walton of New Haven. 

As of Friday, none of the Democratic candidates had been approved for public campaign financing grants, according to a database maintained by state election regulators. However, Bhargava, a former Wall Street trader who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for state treasurer in 2018, said she had raised the necessary funds and was awaiting approval.

Until April, Wooden had been widely expected to seek another term and Bhargava said his unexpected announcement to the contrary left Democratic candidates with less time to gather qualifying funds. Bhargava called Connecticut’s Citizen Election Program an important tool for giving everyone a fair shot at elected office.

“It is important to have everybody and anybody who wants to help the state and run for leadership, to give them a level playing field,” Bhargava said. 

Election regulators have also awarded grants this year to Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat who is seeking another term, Dominic Rapini, a Republican running for secretary of the state, and more than 60 candidates running for seats in the state legislature. 

In order to qualify for public financing grants, a candidate for treasurer must secure a spot on the ballot and raise a total of $86,600, most of which must come from Connecticut residents. Qualifying candidates receive $484,125 to compete in a primary race and a larger grant to fund their general election campaign. 

The general election grant scales depending on the amount of opposition and the date when the candidate applies for the grant. Candidates for state treasurer can receive a maximum of $968,250 for a general election campaign if they apply before August 29.

The amount of money awarded to candidates also scales based on the office they are seeking. A candidate for state representative can receive a maximum grant of around $33,000 whereas a candidate for governor could qualify for up to $7.7 million. 

Neither Gov. Ned Lamont nor his Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski are expected to participate in the program this year. Both men are independently wealthy and declined to access public funding in 2018 when both spent millions of their own funds on their campaigns.