Torrington area legislators propose reforms for Clean Elections program

February 6, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Torrington Register Citizen

HARTFORD >> Local Republican legislators are urging the state to improve its Clean Elections program, which allows candidates to qualify for public financing once they qualify for the ballot and meet a threshold of small-dollar contributions. According to three Torrington area legislators, among others, the program “has suffered numerous erosions.”

State Sens. Kevin Witkos, R-8, and Clark Chapin, R-30, along with state Rep. Jay Case, R-63, called for a series of reforms this week to “close loopholes and seek new reforms to make the program more effective.”

“When the state’s groundbreaking public campaign finance laws were first passed into law, citizens were promised that in exchange for public funds going to campaigns, we could count on a clean election system,” Witkos said in a release. “That promise has fizzled over the years as the majority party has chipped away at the laws, allowing more money into campaigns and more room for abuse of the system. It’s time to put our foot down and work together to clean up the system, restore accountability and promote transparency.”

In 2014, the state spent an excess of $32 million on state elections. How the campaign finance system works is: after candidates reach certain thresholds and fundraising criteria, public funds are distributed to candidates.

According to these three legislators, the amount of money spent in 2014 is too much.

“People hold different opinions on public campaign financing, but most would agree that if a candidate chooses to take taxpayer money for a campaign, he or she should not be the beneficiary of unlimited amounts of outside money,” Chapin said in a release. “Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program grants are overly generous and provide sufficient levels of funding to run effective campaigns without the need for outside influences.”

According to the Hartford Courant, at least a dozen bills had been filed by Republicans in the 2015 General Assembly, as of Jan. 11, with the goal of repealing or reforming the Citizen’s Election Program.

“The proposals include outright repeal of the program,” the Courant article states, “cutting the public financing grants handed out to qualifying state candidates, eliminating public funding for candidates who are running unopposed, and placing more restrictions on who can give money to the state Democratic and Republican campaign committees.”

The package of legislative reforms is five-fold. The legislators are looking, first off, to cap organizational expenditures by state parties.

“Currently, political parties can make unlimited organizational expenditures on behalf of participating candidates,” a release states. Republicans are proposing that a candidate for governor have a $250,000 cap, a constitutional officer candidate have a $75,000 cap, $10,000 for a state senate candidate and $3,500 for a house of representatives candidate.

Next, Republicans would like to reduce the individual donor limits to state parties from $10,000 to $5,000.

“In 2013, individual donor limits to state parties was increased along with the amount state parties could make in organizational expenditures to a campaign,” a release from the three legislators states. “Republicans are proposing to roll back donation limits to previous levels.”

The proposed reforms would also see grants to unopposed candidates eliminated and all Citizen’s Election Program grants reduced by 25 percent. These reforms would also prohibit state contractors from donating to a federal account to fund a state race.

“We are doing a genuine disservice to voters and taxpayers,” Case said in a release. “If we want to engage more people in the democratic process, we need to close up these loopholes. It will benefit our state in the long run, both at the voting booths and in the bank.”