Lawmakers Decry Outside $$
Two state Senators expressed anger that a billionaire from Greenwich would spend more than $37,969 on a television ad to oppose a candidate running in a district that covers Manchester, Glastonbury, Bolton, and Andover.
“I’m being sued by one of the richest people in Connecticut,” Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said Thursday outside the state Capitol.
Admittedly Cassano is not being sued but he said he’s being “attacked” through this process by Thomas Peterffy, the lone donor to the Voters for Good Government, the recently formed 527 corporation based in Delaware, that paid for the ad.
“What impact he has on Manchester and Glastonbury, I have no idea,” Cassano said.
Liz Kurantowicz, the former chief of staff for the Connecticut Republican Party and managing director of Voters for Good Government, said “our goal is to try and bring to light bad policies and politicians that make bad decisions.”
The television advertisement that will air on local cable stations was produced by Cashman + Katz. It’s still undetermined if the ad will be uploaded to YouTube. What is certain is that there will be more independent expenditures made over the next few days against or in favor of state lawmakers, Kurantowicz said.
She declined to say which campaigns would be targeted and how much money Peterffy donated to the organization.
Cassano called the expenditure, which amounts to about a third of the money he received as a publicly financed candidate, “immoral.”
“This is trying to buy an election,” he added.
His outrage was shared by Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn.
Williams called the expenditure in the final days of the campaign — when a candidate has no money left to respond — “unprecedented.”
“In these closing days as this one multi-billionaire tries to put his thumb on the scale and tip it in favor of the billionaires and against middle class families, we’re going to roll up our sleeves to let people know what’s going on,” Williams said.
“This is not what the system is supposed to be,” Cassano said.
The former mayor of Manchester who has held elected office to varying degrees since 1977 said he has no problem with people trying to beat him in an election. But he said the infusion of money creates an unlevel playing field.
As a publicly financed candidate, Cassano has to raised $15,000 in small dollar donations from voters mostly in his district before he receives a public grant of $80,550.
“I’ve never had a situation like this where somebody from the outside …” comes in with money to try to influence an election, Cassano said. “That’s why we have public financing.”
Williams and Cassano have faith that voters will see through the money and the message it brings.
Voters are “going to look back and say that there was more negativity, more attacks, in this election cycle in Connecticut than we’ve ever seen before,” Williams said.
However, it wasn’t unexpected.
Earlier this month, the Great New England Public School Alliance poured tens of thousands of dollars into a court ordered Democratic primary for a seat in the House of Representatives. The candidate who benefited from the outside group’s door-knocking and mailings won the primary.
Democratic legislative leaders sounded the alarm bells after that primary, saying the infusion of cash into the House race should outrage everyone. But Republican lawmakers had a different perspective. They believed the independent expenditures would help level the playing field for them.
“Democrats have been benefiting from independent expenditures from labor for years,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney has said. “Now that there are other independent expenditures in play that can match or maybe exceed union expenditures, now they’re expressing concern.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United for the first time allowed corporations and individuals to make expenditures on behalf or in opposition to candidates from their own treasuries. The state has no ability to change that decision. The only thing the state can do is call for tougher disclosure laws of individuals and businesses donating to these Super PACs or outside organizations.
The state already passed legislation in 2010 that requires organizations to make prompt disclosure of independent expenditures, along with the names of their top five donors.
But this year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed legislation that called for tougher disclosure laws. He said the bill was too broad and would have had unintended consequences for those communicating with elected officials 90 days before an election. He also cited instances where it could violate the constitution.