In a commentary that also appeared in the Hartford Courant Mayor Joe Ganim writes “Barring candidates like me from public campaign financing undermines clean elections and harms the electoral process in Connecticut because it increases the influence of special interests groups and gives a stronger voice to those who are able to give large contributions to candidates for office.”
More than a year ago, the people of Bridgeport gave me a second chance to be their mayor, and I am truly humbled to have this honor. I am committed to helping the residents and businesses of Connecticut’s largest city succeed by balancing the budget, keeping taxes down, promoting public safety and revitalizing the city through economic development.
If I decide to seek a statewide office, I want a fair opportunity to make my case for helping the people of Connecticut by bringing businesses and jobs back, stabilizing state finances and ensuring a secure future for our citizens. In doing so, I would not seek a waiver or exception from the public financing rules, but rather, the same opportunity to participate as every other candidate.
In 2005, Connecticut enacted a public campaign finance system called the Citizens’ Election Program, a reform aimed at limiting the influence of special interests and big donors in state elections. The election program became a national model for clean elections, creating strict fundraising rules, spending limits and public funding grants for candidates for state office. More than 95 percent of all state legislative candidates and all statewide candidates for constitutional offices have used the program. It makes campaigns accessible for thousands of people who can only give in small amounts and now find that their voice matters.
Unfortunately, in 2013 the Generally Assembly changed the rules governing public financing grants for candidates to bar those who, like me, have committed “felonies related to their public office” from applying for clean election funds. I firmly believe that this law conflicts with the purpose of the election program and harms the democratic process.
Barring candidates like me from public campaign financing undermines clean elections and harms the electoral process in Connecticut because it increases the influence of special interests groups and gives a stronger voice to those who are able to give large contributions to candidates for office. One of the most compelling rationales for the election program is to combat corruption–actual and perceived–in public office. Indeed, the election program allows state elected officials to run and govern free of even the appearance of special interest influence. It makes no sense to allow candidates with prior bad acts to run for and potentially be elected to some of the state’s most important public offices, such as governor, and yet be precluded from participating in the anti-corruption mechanism of campaign financing that is the Citizens’ Election Fund.
The 2013 law also unfairly and unconstitutionally distorts the democratic process. Under the First and 14th amendments, government cannot promote preferred political speech of some candidates with public money, while restricting the political speech of others by refusing them access to that same public funding. The election program is so successful that any candidate who does not participate in public financing is at a severe disadvantage.
Instead of letting the voters choose the best candidate for public office, the legislature has taken that choice away by not allowing certain candidates to participate in the clean elections program. Those kept out are forced to engage in endless fundraising–from private donors and special interests. So a candidate is legally permitted to be on the ballot, but cannot access public, clean campaign funds necessary to equally make their case. This does not seem constitutional on its face.
Ultimately, this funding prohibition has nothing to do with protecting the integrity of public funds. It really amounts to further punishment for prior bad acts. If the state has a strong interest in shielding the democratic process from abuse, then what better way to accomplish that goal than compelling as many candidates as possible to opt into public campaign financing–especially those who betrayed the public trust in the past. To paraphrase Justice Louis Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant. We should be encouraging candidates to abide by the strict fundraising, spending and disclosure rules of the election program, not preventing them from participation.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission recently voted to take up my request for a declaratory ruling that I be allowed to participate in the Citizens’ Election Program if I choose to run for statewide office. The commission should rule in favor of my participation and allowing candidates like me the opportunity to receive clean election funding.