Clean elections in jeopardy?

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HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Raiding the “Clean Elections Fund” to help balance the state budget. That’s what state Democrats proposed earlier this week.

Some are saying it will be the beginning of end of clean elections in the state even though it’s only being proposed for one election cycle. That is because lobbyists and state contractors would be brought back into the campaign funding mix.

The ‘Clean Elections Law’ was passed in the aftermath of the John Rowland scandal a decade ago. In last year’s election, both Governor Malloy and Republican Tom Foley participated in Connecticut’s Public Financing of elections system.
It means that each candidate raised about $250,000 from small donations of $5 to $100 dollars. They then qualified for equal grants of $6.5 million in public funds to wage their campaign.

The majority of the candidates for the General Assembly also participated. Candidates for State Representative raise $5,000 in small donations, and get a grant of about $30,000 for the final campaign. State Senate candidates, who run for a much larger district, raise $15,000 in small donations, and receive a grant of $85,000.

The money for this, known as the ‘Clean Elections Fund,’ does not come from taxes. It comes from a huge pot of unclaimed property that ends up in state hands every year.

Earlier this week, the Democratic Leadership of the Assembly proposed suspending the public financing system for next year’s legislative elections and using about $12 million from the ‘Clean Elections Fund’ to help plug the hole in this year’s state budget.

“We want to make it abundantly clear that no one in Connecticut thinks we need more special interest money influencing politics,” said Evan Preston of the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group.

Rep. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown) added, “One of the proudest accomplishments of this state is in turning our backs on the failed policies of the past, the system of ‘pay to play’ and the system of corruption that existed in the John Rowland years.”

Advocates for the system came together today to urge that the fund not be touched because it would result in candidates going back to fundraising from state contractors and lobbyists. “Getting rid of clean elections in Connecticut is a really,  really bad idea,”  said Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford).

Democratic leaders appear to be already retreating from this proposal.  The leader of the State Senate announced today they now have plan to close the budget gap without touching the clean elections fund. On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic Leaders of the House said they now believe they can find a way to solve the budget deficit dilemma without touching this fund.

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