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Dems Would Scrap Clean Election Program To Balance Budget

by | Nov 16, 2015 3:45pm
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Campaign Finance, State Budget, Special Session, Taxes

Christine Stuart file photo

Senate President Martin Looney and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey earlier this week after budget negotiations

The legislature’s Democratic majority released a proposal Monday to close a $350 million budget shortfall by, among other things, suspending Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance system for the 2016 election cycle.

The suspension of the program would only help close $11.7 million of the $350 million to $370 million budget gap.

But Michael Brandi, the head of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said the one cycle suspension would start the “death spiral” for the program.

“The CEF has been a huge success and this move would put it on life support if not kill it entirely,” Brandi said in a statement. “It will not leave the fund enough money to fund the 2018 elections — so this is not a one-time suspension, it’s a permanent weakening, that will likely result in a death spiral — and it will return all of our elected officials to the culture of soliciting special interest money to fund their campaigns. This is not what the citizens of Connecticut signed up for when the Citizens’ Election Fund was created.”

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said in theory they could revert back to the old 2005 system or they could impose limits on how much money a candidate could raise. The only catch is that the money would have to be raised through private sources without a public grant.

“That’s all subject to further discussion and negotiation,” Sharkey said.

The Citizens Election Program was implemented following the resignation of former Gov. John G. Rowland, who went to jail for taking gifts from state contractors.

“Make no mistake, we all pay the price when we turn government over to lobbyists and wealthy special interests,” Karen Hobert-Flynn, senior vice president of Common Cause said Monday. “At a time when upwards of 90 percent of voters in both major parties say money in politics is a problem, Connecticut Democrats are going backwards toward corruption and the era of John Rowland.”

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Connecticut’s Common Cause chapter who has championed the clean election program, called the cut a “bad idea.”

“It’s a short sighted idea, especially at a point where less than two weeks ago voters in Maine and Seattle voted to enact programs like ours,” Quickmire said.

Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Every Voice Center, who lived for 30 years in Connecticut and worked on passage of the Citizens’ Election Program in 2005, said “This decision would make politicians more accountable to big donors and less to ordinary citizens. Democrats and Republicans alike should demand this proposal be withdrawn.”

Republican lawmakers suggested trimming the grants candidates receive under the program by 20 percent to save $2.2 million in 2016 and $6.6 million in 2017.

The program allows candidates to raise small amounts of money in order to qualify for a larger state grant to conduct their campaign. State representative candidates had to raise $5,000 in donations under $100 in 2014 in order to qualify for a $27,850 grant, and a state senate candidate had to raise $15,000, also in donations under $100, in order to qualify for a $94,690 grant.

Sharkey said suspending the program for a year wasn’t his first choice, but it was an idea that was raised by his caucus and it’s an idea that seems to have some bipartisan support.

“Suspension for state legislative elections made sense,” Sharkey said. “It will give us opportunity to reconfigure the program and make it more effective without having to make some of these other patches.”

In addition to scrapping the Citizens Election Program, the Democratic budget proposal restores about $34 million of the $63.5 million that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy cut from hospitals in September.

The Democrats would also give the governor the power to find an additional $89.1 million in savings while the Republican budget proposal gives the governor the power to find an additional $93 million in savings.

The Democratic budget proposal also delays the transfer of sales taxes to the special transportation fund for two months and transfers of the sales tax revenue to the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account for a month.

Delaying those programs goes after one of Malloy’s biggest initiatives and one of the Democrats’ biggest initiatives as well. The money in the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account will be used starting in July 2016 to lower the mill rate for motor vehicle owners mostly in large urban areas. The Democrats have touted the initiative as “property tax relief.”

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats said the delay will maintain the “integrity” of the program, while helping to close the immediate budget gap.

The Democratic budget proposal released by email Monday afternoon also used $35 million of the rainy day fund to close the budget gap.

“Our plan makes the spending cuts necessary to bring the budget back in balance, and also begins to make some long term structural reforms, such as improving the business tax climate,” Sharkey said in a press release. “At the same time we sustain the critical services thousands of families depend upon each day, and preserve the much needed property tax relief provided in the original budget.”

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the decision to restore some funding to the hospitals and developmental services “represents a preservation of our Democratic priorities, to maintain critical services and protect our most vulnerable residents.”

The Republicans, who are at the budget negotiating table for the first time in several years, released their proposal last week. The proposal relies mostly on sweeping money from the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account and a retirement incentive program for state employees.

“There are a number of areas where this plan is similar to the Republican proposal that we presented last week which is encouraging,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said. “It appears to recognize that there are necessary cuts in spending that have to be made.”

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(12) Archived Comments

posted by: ocoandasoc | November 16, 2015  5:14pm

Sharkey’s statements go beyond misrepresentation. They are outright lies.
“Our plan makes the spending cuts necessary to bring the budget back in balance, and also begins to make some long term structural reforms, such as improving the business tax climate,” Sharkey said in a press release. “At the same time we sustain the critical services thousands of families depend upon each day, and preserve the much needed property tax relief provided in the original budget. It represents a preservation of our Democratic priorities, to maintain critical services and protect our most vulnerable residents.”
Their cuts will NOT bring the budget into balance. Not even close. Their new budget actually delays long-term structural reforms. And it may “sustain” critical services, but it still makes significant cuts to them compared to the original budget, cuts that will adversely affect the State’s most vulnerable residents.
A famous Connecticut resident once said “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Messers Sharkey and Looney continue to try and prove him wrong.

posted by: oldtimer | November 16, 2015  6:03pm

Clean elections!?!? Resort to the 2005 standard!?!? Hmmmm, does that mean Malloy can again direct contractor’s contributions to his campaign?

posted by: johnnyb | November 16, 2015  7:25pm

So these two recommend that we keep all the permanent commissions because they are so essential to this State continuing to function.What are they doing for parents of the mentally disabled that need care as the parents are aging? These guys are just nipping at the edges and will continue to lead us on the road to fiscal insolvency.Too many Deputy Commissioners, spokesman, and HR departments but why do anything about that?

posted by: LE 2015 | November 16, 2015  7:33pm

Our legislature is a joke. Both the dems and reps want Malloy to cut around $90 million. But they just complained about his last cuts. ERIP just moves more of the problem to the pension fund. We have to cut state wages and benefits. There is no other solution. We also have to reduce what the state gives to the cities. The cities then have to reduce their wages and benefits.

posted by: middleoftheroad | November 16, 2015  10:45pm

No real cuts in the legislative branch?

posted by: Noteworthy | November 17, 2015  12:06am

These Dems - all of them have so whored out the “clean election” program, it might as well be scrapped. Look at the fake federal account and all the shenanigans on that - and how Kennedy legally had all his friends donate tens of thousands, only to have it returned to him through this magic federal account. I’m all for keeping it - but for our sake, put some integrity behind it. Or it’s worthless.

posted by: Humsby | November 17, 2015  8:01am

The answer is simple and democratic as in democratic party. Impose a fee,tax, whatever you want call it to fund saleries and expenses of the regulators and the clean election fund. Volia, problem solved.

posted by: Just another CT resident | November 17, 2015  8:26am

The call to eliminate the State Elections Enforcement Commission is just the Dems paying them back for suing the Dems State party over Malloy’s campaign spending. Rather than eliminating that Commission, how about this idea for helping to balance the budget - eliminate the salaries, free healthcare and pensions for the elected state legislators - like State Senators Looney and State Representative Sharkey. After all, all of them “work” for only part of the year. Let’s start with them and then look at all those appointed positions on commissions - aka patronage jobs to see if they should be paid anything for their “contributions” (if any) to the state.

posted by: Tessa Marquis | November 17, 2015  8:52am

You guys got any more Republican Plans you want to roll out and over the rest of us Real Democrats?

posted by: Social Butterfly | November 17, 2015  10:40am

House Minority Speaker Themis Klarides cut the budget deficit chase when she said: “It appears that there are necessry cuts in spending what have to be made” after the Malloy Democratic majority “made a deficit mess out of spending money we don’t have.”

posted by: GBear423 | November 17, 2015  2:41pm

GBear423

Scrap it. It’s a sham.

The campaign warchests of every incumbent democrat dwarfs any challenger’s current ability to finance. The Reigning Party has such an overwhelming advantage regardless if there is public funding or not.  Even still they go ahead and take the funding and continue to violate the spirit if not the letter of the laws they agreed to.

posted by: NoNonsense | November 17, 2015  7:37pm

@Just another CT resident: unless I’ve missed something, there is NOT a “call to eliminate the State Elections Enforcement Commission”. The plan is to do away with the Citizens Election Program, which provides taxpayer dollars to candidates who qualify. Big difference.