Mayor Joe Ganim must wait for at least two months before learning if he may qualify for a public campaign grant should he seek a long-shot statewide office in 2018. But will he wait that long before raising money? A slew of statewide candidates are already dialing for dollars.
Ganim has asked the State Elections Enforcement Commission to provide a declaratory ruling see here regarding a state law passed four years ago barring office-related felons from participation in the state’s Citizens Election Program that doles out public dollars to candidates who reach a fundraising threshold in small dollar amounts. The SEEC notified Ganim that decision will come in late June. The voluntary public financing program was created to eliminate big donor amounts and dark-money special interests following former Governor John Rowland’s conviction on public corruption.
The state legislature added an amendment four years ago after former State Senator Ernie Newton was charged with campaign finance fraud involving a public grant. Newton was convicted on a lesser charge, received six months and is appealing the decision.
Arnold Skretta, an elections lawyer representing Ganim, asserts there are constitutional issues such as unfairly applying the law retroactively to Ganim following his conviction on federal corruption charges in 2003. Courts generally disfavor laws applied retroactively.
Here’s was what passed.
(NEW) (5) Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, no candidate may apply to the State Elections Enforcement Commission for a grant from the fund under the Citizens’ Election Program if such candidate has been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, in a court of competent jurisdiction, any (A) criminal offense under this title unless at least eight years have elapsed from the date of the conviction or plea or the completion of any sentence, whichever date is later, without a subsequent conviction of or plea to another such offense, or (B) a felony related to the individual’s public office, other than an offense under this title in accordance with subparagraph (A) of this subdivision.
Ganim’s lawyer argues if the state wants clean elections then it would require — not ban — the participation of individuals like Ganim and others similarly situated.
So, what are Ganim’s options meanwhile? He could form an exploratory committee to raise money for state office with a maximum personal contribution of $375. If the SEEC staff and commission rule in his favor he could roll that money into a full-blown candidate committee, but only donations of $100 and less could apply. If they rule against him he could march into court on constitutional grounds. If that fails he still has the option of raising money the old-fashioned way with large dollar donations, but that would undercut his second-chance narrative rejecting dark-money donations.
Candidates for governor running outside the public financing program, for instance, can receive a personal maximum contribution of $3,500. See contribution chart limits for nonparticipating CEP candidates here.
Ganim recently showed on a municipal level, where public financing is unavailable, he still is a mighty fundraiser amassing nearly $200K in one night for his 2019 mayoralty reelection. Ganim sees running statewide next year a free run. He still has a backup if he fails.
Or maybe Ganim says screw it, all of this is more trouble than it’s worth, and not play on a state level. With Ganim it will go day to day until he fundamentally decides to cross his Rubicon. It’s the Joe brain.