Multiple state bills take aim at public campaign financing

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — As the votes are tallied in three special election races across Connecticut, the way in which campaigns are financed is up for debate.

So far in the current legislative session, 35 bills have been introduced that in some way alter, reduce or eliminate the Citizens’ Election Program.

The Citizen’s Election Program, or CEP, is a grant for public office candidates to utilize in lieu of outside donations. The money comes with certain rules, such as limiting the size of the outside group campaign contribution or limiting the amount of personal funds that can be used in a campaign.

In the 2014 election, every state candidate utilized CEP funds, according to SEEC Executive Director Michael Brandi.

“Candidates are now worrying about what their constituents want and working in their district rather than the special interest that comes in and tries to influence them,” said Brandi.

State Representative Melissa Ziobron first accepted a CEP grant before returning the money, when she found she was running unopposed. She introduced legislation that would bar grants from going to candidates running unopposed.

“Why should people be taking money that is for a campaign that you have no opponent for,” asked Ziobron. “We need to be better about the guidelines up front so they don’t have to be put in that position.”

Other bills would go a step further, eliminating the program altogether. Ziobron said CEP as it exists is not working.

“I don’t believe that the program we have before us today is putting that stopgap in for dark money. It’s happening. Let’s be realistic about it,” said Ziobron. “If you ask me today should this program continue, I would say in the light of all the budget cuts we’re looking at, I don’t believe it’s the priority of the taxpayers of Connecticut.”

None of the bills have public hearings scheduled for them, so SEEC staff have yet to formally weigh in to lawmakers.

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