CT Examiner: GOP Cries Foul as Lamont Proposes Allowing Online Donations for State and Local Elections

September 28, 2023

By Robert Storace

HARTFORD – As the State Legislature plans to convene a special session on Tuesday morning, it’s a proposal by Gov. Ned Lamont related to campaign contributions made online that has some Republicans crying foul.

The proposal would expand the state’s campaign finance rules to allow online donations.

Connecticut is the only state in the country that does not allow small donations through internet applications like ActBlue and WinRed – online tools used by Democratic and Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, was working Monday on crafting the exact wording of the legislation – one that has gone through several iterations – in an effort, sources say, to build consensus.

Those same sources told CT Examiner that there is a chance the entire proposal will be scrapped and not make it for a vote on Tuesday. The decision on whether to pull the measure would be made Tuesday prior to the 11 a.m. opening of special session.

The proposal was met with immediate and fierce opposition from Republican leaders. On Friday, Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, and House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, issued a press release slamming the proposal, and claiming Democrats were seeking to allow so-called dark money into the state’s election process.

Neither Kelly nor Candelora was available to speak to CT Examiner prior to publication, but their release offered a blistering rebuke of state Democrats.

“This is the height of arrogance,” Kelly said in the statement. “And, talk about bad timing: As Connecticut makes embarrassing national news for the Bridgeport primary fiasco, majority Democrats now want to open the dark money floodgates for our elections? Connecticut is a national model for campaign finance reform, but today Connecticut Democrats want to undermine those protections for clean elections.”

Candelora wrote that “Majority Democrats and Gov. Lamont are exploiting [special session] to rewrite expenditure rules at the heart of the state’s public campaign financing system – the Citizen’s Election Program.”

In a statement emailed to CT Examiner on Monday, Duff defended the proposal as democratization of the electoral process.

“Connecticut is committed to our election laws … This proposal will allow more people to participate in the electoral process, with a full disclosure that honors Connecticut’s model campaign finance system.” The model, among other things, puts stringent limits on what groups, including lobbyists, can give toward candidates.

State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, told CT Examiner on Monday that he’s not a fan of rules that dictate how people can donate to a candidate, but that Democrats were changing rules to tilt elections in their favor.

“[They] want to alter the rules to their benefit. I mean, that is why they want early voting, expansions to that and no excuses absentee voting. They also want dropboxes because they know Democratic voters are less likely to show up if there is bad weather, long lines at the polls, or whatever.”

But State Democratic Chair Nancy DiNardo told CT Examiner on Monday that she supported the proposal because it would allow “everybody to participate.” DiNardo also rebutted claims that the proposal had anything to do with dark money, noting that online tools like ActBlue and WinRed must publicly report the names and personal information of donors.

“Democrats have long supported clean elections and continue to do so,” DiNardo said. “There is nothing being done in secret.”

Quinnipiac University Law Assistant Professor Wayne Unger told CT Examiner on Monday that the proposal buttresses the success of Democrats with online small donors.

“It might be why you have Republicans here in Connecticut saying ‘No, no, no we do not want to now allow dark money.’’’ Unger also said “Republicans have, and do, benefit from Super PACs.”

As legislators waited to see whether the provision would make it to the floor, Democratic Speaker of the House Matt Ritter told CT Examiner that he is actually against the measure, as currently written.

“I do have a problem with the language as currently drafted. It does circumvent some of the restrictions we have in place now. So, it’s going to take some good lawyering to make everybody happy. I do believe it’s possible.”

Ritter however strongly disagreed with those across the aisle who suggested the proposal involved dark money is at play.

The special session of the General Assembly on Tuesday is also scheduled to take up the following matters:

To enact legislation to change the date of the state’s presidential preference primary to the first Tuesday in April every four years

Extending the term of any incumbent municipal elected official to conform to the beginning of the succeeding term.

Improving the procedure related to recanvasses including ensuring that each voting district for any election uses a dedicated voting tabulator that only registers and counts votes cast for that particular voting district. It also requires the Secretary of the State to develop a training video on recanvas procedures, among other things.

Changing the effective date of Oct. 1, 2023 to July 1, 2024 for requiring EMS personnel, under specified conditions, to administer epinephrine using automated prefilled cartridge injectors, similar automatic injectable equipment, or prefilled vials and syringes.

Authorizing the Secretary of the State to retain an election monitor to detect and prevent irregularity and impropriety in the management of election administration procedures and the conduct of elections in certain municipalities.

GOP Cries Foul as Lamont Proposes Allowing Online Donations for State and Local Elections