Unpacking Public Dollars Spent On Local Elections

State Senator Herron Gaston and City Councilman Ernie Newton.

Stratford resident Dave Mullane studiously examines campaign finance reports from Connecticut’s voluntary Citizens Election Program of publicly funded races than has spent tens of millions the past 15 years to limit the influence of money in state elections.

Reaching a threshold of smaller donations from residents of respective districts will trigger a public grant. Connecticut’s 23rd Senate District covers about two thirds of Bridgeport and a portion of western Stratford. Freshman incumbent Herron Gaston faces a challenge from City Councilman Ernie Newton who occupied the seek 20 years ago.

In this commentary Mullane shares his thoughts and examination of reports from the district arguing the state program is a “good idea that needs to be reformed.”

In the 23rd state seat district the Democrat primary is the election whoever wins that gets it in the fall.

This year looks like a great match up between 1st term incumbent Gaston and former 23rd senator Newton.

In 2022 Gaston captured the seat by beating then 2 term incumbent Dennis Bradley. Gaston won by 147 votes.

In Stratford Gaston received 176 votes beating Bradley in primary here by 103 votes 176 to 73. Gaston got 70% of the Stratford Democrat vote total.

In Bridgeport the vote was much closer Gaston won by only 44 votes beating Bradley 1,775 to 1,628 this is a win of by less than .05% of the Bridgeport vote total.

The Stratford vote turn out in 2022 of 249 Democrats was less than half of what it was in 2018 when 599 Democrats came out and Bradley got 262 votes that year if he just repeated the same 2018 result, he would’ve won. Oh well coulda, shoulda woulda. Stratford provide 2/3’s of the winning vote in 2022 primary.

Bradley was outspent in the primary 2 to 1 by Gaston because Gaston was able to get a huge CEP grant. After winning the primary Gaston then got another even bigger CEP to take out some lightweight candidates in the fall. That money was all gravy and just an excuse to spread out cash to his followers.

Money is big part of campaigns and in 2018 when both Democrats in the 23rd district primary that year Dennis Bradley and Aaron Turner were evenly matched in CEP the voter turnout was greater in both Stratford and Bridgeport over 1,700 more voters came out in 2018.

2024 will be another year where only one candidate, Gaston, will get CEP while the other, Newton, will not be due to disqualification from the SEEC (just like Bradley was in 2022)

Gaston received the max donation of $320 from mayor Ganim and even Republican former Stratford Mayor John Harkins (now a consultant) donated to Gaston.

Ernie Newton says “Our money comes from everyday people. Not Lobbyists. I’m bought by the people who I’ve represented for years. When I Win the people Win”

Ernie Newton has deeper roots in the 23rd and while 2018 showed that evenly matched CEP candidates showed greater turn out for Democrats on the flip side in 2018 Stratford Republicans threw in a lot of outside district money in a candidate, scored CEP primary cash and with $54,000 the “Friends of Caz” could not defeat John Rodriquez who only had $100. However, the goal of “Friends of Caz” was just a money grab to build the Stratford GOP.

There is a lot of wasted CEP funding in lots of places. In just the 23rd state senate seat it’s over a $1million since the program started in 2008.

In 2022 the Gaston campaign got over $212,000 in free CEP cash of that $46,000 went to 3 people and $41,000 went to some local LLCs in Stratford and Bridgeport.

Newton says he expects to raise $50,000 for the primary so just like Bradley he’ll be facing a challenger with twice the money he has because CEP doesn’t level the playing field and it doesn’t stop outside influences either.

In a lot of races CEP just increases cost and graft and the millions of dollars in grants is money that could be better spent elsewhere. When you look at other programs in the state you see folks fighting for funding and being asked

To justify their cost however with CEP it never runs out of funding the amounts increase with each election cycle and there are scammers working it for has much as they get some insiders say that taxes aren’t even collected on all this campaign cash to ”workers” If someone collects unemployment from the state the taxman gets his cut, but no one is tracking election grants.

CEP is a good idea that needs to be reformed.



  1. alot of this info is old if you look at Newtons donors right now it look looks loke they are mainly from the suburbs and not Bridgeport. Maybe Moses parted the housotonic river and led his people to the suburbs?

  2. Dave, you think,? You’re just coming to that epiphany. 🙂

    It can be tightened up I guess, though. There should be a minimal threshold amount/number of donors who live within the district they represent. JS

    P.S. This is coming off like a hit piece on Eye-candy for Moses of the People—some things money can’t buy. 🤣 but we know if Moses was allowed that CEP ma-ma-money, that would ma-ma-make him ha- ha-happy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA2ziAAXoqE

  3. wow what novel idea, fund education. i will believe it when i see it. the city could easily cut cushy no show city hall jobs and raise half this money. But I will believe it when I see it. in the past when the city had received increased funding from the state in the past, what did the city do? they cut their contribution to the education budget by the same amount the state provided.


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