Pondering a run for statewide office for the 2018 election cycle, Mayor Joe Ganim has asked the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission to provide a ruling on whether he is eligible to participate in the state’s Citizens Election Program of publicly funded races. At issue is a state law that appears to ban candidates with a public office felony conviction from accessing the clean election program. Ganim was convicted of public corruption charges in 2003 during his first tenure as mayor.
State law does not bar Ganim from public office. A law, however, passed in 2013 by the state legislature following the arrest of former State Senator Ernie Newton on state campaign finance charges could derail Ganim’s participation in the public financing program. Newton was accused of falsifying campaign donations to trigger a larger public grant as a state senate candidate in 2012. He was convicted on some of the lesser charges and was sentenced to six months. Newton is free pending appeal. The state passed a law prohibiting public campaign funds for those violating the public trust.
Ganim is being represented by elections lawyer Arnold Skretta. Ganim, through his lawyer, issued this statement on Friday.
“Today I am asking the State Elections Enforcement Commission for a declaratory ruling stating that I be allowed to participate in the Citizens’ Election Program should I seek statewide elected office. I want to be clear that I have not decided to seek statewide office, but it is something I am considering. If I do seek statewide office, I am absolutely committed to transparency and clean elections, and I would want to participate in the program.”
Simply put, I am looking for the same equal opportunity, should I decide to seek State elected office, to participate in the clean and fair public financing system that has transformed Connecticut’s elections for the better. If I should run for such an office, I am requesting the honor and privilege of being among those who can say they came to office free of special interest money.
As I read it, this statute potentially creates an illogical system whereby, although I am currently the Mayor of Connecticut’s largest city, and can run for and be elected to the highest offices in State government, this law appears to preclude me from participation in Connecticut’s clean election law program. This law, if so applied, could have the effect of distorting the democratic process.”
If Ganim is barred from receiving public funds and seeks statewide office he’d have to raise the money the old-fashioned way through large dollar donations from special interests. Public financing does not exist on a municipal election. The state enacted public financing following Governor John Rowland’s indictment on federal corruption charges and subsequent guilty plea more than 10 years ago.
Under the voluntary CEP program state candidates raise small dollar amounts of $100 and less to reach a fundraising threshold that triggers a larger pot of public money. The state has paid out tens of millions of dollars of campaign finance money since the program was enacted about a decade ago.
Ganim has already raised close to $200,000 for his 2019 mayoral reelection committee, a strategic move to bank the local loot so he can now focus on raising money for a possible statewide run.
If Ganim’s request is rejected by the SEEC, a potential option is filing a court complaint on constitutional grounds.