Watch­dogs want tighter cam­paign-fi­nance rules

The News-Times - - NEWS - By Ken Dixon

The over­all ef­forts of the two ma­jor-party can­di­dates for gov­er­nor spent nearly the same amount per-vote.

But Repub­li­can Bob Ste­fanowski’s ex­penses were matched by a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee funded by the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est dis­clo­sures to the State Elections En­force­ment Com­mis­sion.

Ste­fanowski’s of­fi­cial cam­paign spent about $10 per vote in the los­ing cause, while Gov. Ned La­mont’s vic­tory cost him nearly $23 per bal­lot, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est cam­paign-fi­nance fil­ings.

But if you in­clude the $7.4 mil­lion that a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee as­so­ci­ated with the RGA spent on anti-La­mont ad­ver­tis­ing, the per­vote cost nearly bal­ances out.

Po­lit­i­cal watch­dogs said Fri­day that the out-of-state in­flu­ence in the elec­tion takes ad­van­tage of a mas­sive loop­hole left in the con­tro­ver­sial U.S. Supreme Court decision of 2010 called Cit­i­zens United.

And the SEEC, which re­leased the lat­est cam­paign fil­ings on Thurs­day, has pro­posed eight ma­jor pieces of leg­is­la­tion aimed at in­creas­ing pub­lic dis­clo­sure, and even pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional money for can­di­dates who be­come tar­gets of PACs.

“We’re mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to try to strength the (Cit­i­zens’ Elec­tion Program) and look to­ward bet­ter dis­clo­sure for the pub­lic,” said Michael J. Brandi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and chief coun­sel of the SEEC, not­ing that the agency awarded 335 grants for the 2018 elec­tion cy­cle. “Lots of ef­fort was spent this year in try­ing to fer­ret out dark money and make sure we’re get­ting the proper dis­clo­sure the pub­lic is en­ti­tled to.”

Out­side money

“I think we need to make the dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments that we do have much more ro­bust,” said Cheri Quick­mire, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Com­mon Cause in Con­necti­cut.

“We need to know who’s spend­ing on cam­paigns, and if some­one does self-fi­nanc­ing but is get­ting sup­port from out­side or­ga­ni­za­tions, that is clearly not self-fi­nanced.”

She said that there needs to be a “brighter line” be­tween so-called in­de­pen­dent spend­ing and pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween a PAC and a can­di­date.

La­mont, who took of­fice on Wed­nes­day, doled out

$15.8 mil­lion for his 694,000 votes, av­er­ag­ing the spend­ing at $22.77 per vote.

Ste­fanowski, a Madi­son busi­ness con­sul­tant, raised

$6.5 mil­lion, in­clud­ing a $2.8 mil­lion loan he gave his cam­paign, for the 650,000 bal­lots he re­ceived in Novem­ber.

Change PAC, the RGA’s in­de­pen­dent-ex­pen­di­ture or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­vested $7.4 mil­lion, which mostly paid for TV at­tack ads against La­mont.

So while Ste­fanowski’s main cam­paign paid about $10 per vote, adding the Change PAC’s ex­penses brings the to­tal to nearly $14 mil­lion, for a per-bal­lot cost of $21.74.

While he front-loaded his cam­paign with TV ads dat­ing back to Jan­uary 2018, months be­fore the GOP state con­ven­tion, which he did not at­tend, after win­ning the Au­gust pri­mary Ste­fanowski spent much of his time fundrais­ing and lit­tle time on the daily cam­paign trail.

Down-ticket cam­paigns

“The fact that Ste­fanowski out­sourced so much of his fundrais­ing to the PAC not sus­cep­ti­ble to Con­necti­cut rules and reg­u­la­tions is ar­guably the most con­cern­ing part about these num­bers,” said Con­necti­cut Cit­i­zen Ac­tion Group Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Tom Swan, who in 2006 was La­mont’s cam­paign man­ager in a suc­cess­ful pri­mary chal­lenge against then-U.S. Sen. Joe Lieber­man.

La­mont, a Green­wich in­vestor, largely self-funded in his cam­paign, rais­ing only about $800,000 from in­di­vid­ual con­trib­u­tors.

Quick­mire said while mil­lion­aires ran for the gov­er­nor’s spot, the state’s 10-year-old pub­lic-fi­nanc­ing sys­tem for the Gen­eral Assembly proved that can­di­dates did not have to be wealthy.

“If you look down-ticket, more than 85 per­cent of peo­ple run­ning for of­fice used the program,” Quick­mire said of the 10-year-old Cit­i­zens’ Elec­tion Program.

The SEEC re­cently re­ported that while the 2018 elections showed a 3.2 per­cent in­crease in women serv­ing in state leg­is­la­tures around the na­tion, Con­necti­cut saw a jump of nearly 6 per­cent.

Women now make up 33.2 per­cent of Con­necti­cut leg­is­la­tors, up from 27.3 per­cent

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Bob Ste­fanowski spent about $10 per vote in his los­ing cam­paign for gov­er­nor, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est cam­paign-fi­nance fil­ings.

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