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Make It Easier To Run On Public Funds

PUBLIC FINANCING Only one candidate for governor has qualified

Hartford Courant editorial

May 16, 2010

Juan Figueroa bowed out as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor last week, and in leaving the race made a thoughtful suggestion:

Modify the state's landmark campaign finance law to make it easier for gubernatorial candidates to qualify for matching public funds.

This week, Rudy Marconi also dropped out of the Democratic nomination race and made a similar suggestion: "If we don't save our public campaign finance law, that's where we're headed: Government by and for the special interests and millionaires."

Neither Mr. Marconi nor Mr. Figueroa qualified for public funds. Mr. Marconi, first selectman of Ridgefield, said he raised about $150,000 before he had to quit. Mr. Figueroa, a former state representative and health care advocate, spent four 4 1/2 months running for governor and raised no more than $40,000.

To weed out those who lack support in the gubernatorial race, the law requires a candidate to raise $250,000 in donations of $100 or less and 90 percent of it from inside Connecticut to qualify for up to $2.5 million in Citizens Election Fund grants to run for a party's nomination. That means a candidate has to raise money from at least 2,500 contributors to qualify.

That's hard to do maybe too hard. Only one candidate for governor who has opted to use the voluntary public financing system, Democrat Dan Malloy, has succeeded so far. It took him more than a year to do so. Republican candidates Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton are hoping to qualify. The Democratic and Republican nominating conventions are less than a week away.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders backed the clean elections fund as a way to keep large amounts of special-interest money from influencing elections. The reform was also intended to produce more competition in elections by offering the incentive of public money (from the sale of unclaimed property) and a level playing field.

It has worked for major-party candidates in state Senate and House elections, where the thresholds are much lower $5,000 for House races and $15,000 for Senate. In 2008, 83 percent of state Senate candidates and 74 percent of House candidates made use of the public funding.

A federal judge has said, however, that the law makes it too hard for independent and minor-party candidates to qualify for public money in any race. Legislators failed to fix that problem before adjourning last week.

The threshold for gubernatorial candidates the amount of seed money a candidate needs to raise to qualify for public funds appears to be too high if only one candidate has reached it up to now.

Lawmakers should consider judiciously lowering the qualifying amount for gubernatorial candidates to a threshold that would encourage competition without opening the floodgates to frivolous candidacies.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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