Common Cause uses new poll to rally support for public financing of campaigns

Common Cause today bolstered its efforts to save the public financing of campaigns in Connecticut with a poll showing support for the reforms passed in 2005 after the resignation of Gov. John G. Rowland.

The group is trying to nudge legislators to cure legal defects in the law that could kill the Citizens Election Program just as candidates for statewide office otherwise would be receiving their first grants.

“Nearly 8 in 10 respondents indicated their support for public financing of elections. This is a message that the governor and legislators can’t ignore,” said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut.

A telephone survey by Zogby International found that 79 percent of residents favor the program and 58 percent support Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislators making changes necessary to abide by an adverse court ruling.

U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill has found the program unconstitutional, saying it favors Democrats and Republicans at the expense of minor party candidates. The state’s appeal of his decision is pending.

In an interview, Rell said the legislature needs to quickly address Underhill’s objections. She asked lawmakers to amend the program in November, but legislators could not reach a consensus.

“The biggest problem for me right now is the uncertainly for candidates. They don t know which way to go,” she said. “They are in a state of limbo.”

Legislators say they hope to hold public hearings on possible changes to the law soon after the General Assembly begins its 2010 session on Feb 3.

Dannel P. Malloy, one of the Democrats exploring a run for governor, quickly seized on the poll as a reason for the rest of the field to to participate in public financing. One of Malloy’s better-known rivals for the nomination, Ned Lamont, who spent $17 million of his money on a U.S. Senate race in 2006, has refused to commit. Tom Foley, a wealthy businessman seeking the Republican nomination, has said he will not seek public funds.

“This poll should serve as proof of just how strongly Connecticut voters feel about campaign finance reform, and as a warning for those candidates who think they can brush aside the Citizens’ Election Program in order to try and buy a nomination,” Malloy said.

It is unclear how persuasive legislators will find the poll, which found that 50 percent of those surveyed did not know enough about the Citizens’ Election Program to initially have an opinion.

Of the rest, 45 percent approved and 5 percent disapproved. The poll is available here.

Higher numbers of respondents expressed support after the pollster read this definition:

“Under the Citizens’ Election program, candidates collect a set amount of small contributions of
$100 or less to qualify for a limited amount of public funds. Once qualified, they must adhere to
strict campaign spending limits and can no longer accept campaign contributions. Knowing this,
do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the Citizens’ Election

The 2005 law bans contributions from lobbyists, state contractors and their spouses. It creates a voluntary system of public financing campaigns in which candidates qualify for funds by raising threshold amounts, relying on contributions of no more than $100. No funds are payable until a candidate qualifies for the ballot in a primary or general election.

In the case of candidates for governor, they must raise $250,000 to qualify for a primary grant of $1.25 million and a general-election grant of $3 million.

The poll was based on a survey of 503 people. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.