Malloy sounds a theme as first gubernatorial candidate to qualify for public financing

Jabbing at his independently wealthy opponent and thanking his base of 4,000 donors, Democrat Dan Malloy stood on the State Capitol steps Sunday and announced he is the first candidate for governor to qualify for public financing.

On Monday, that opponent, Ned Lamont, will name a running mate, Mary Glassman, who strongly supported public financing during her own exploratory campaign for governor.

“It’s a curious situation,” Malloy said, noting Glassman’s position on public financing. “So, either she’s had change of heart or Ned’s had a change of heart.”

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Dan Malloy after announcing he has qualified for public financing (Mark Pazniokas)

The two announcements feed a story line that Malloy hopes to exploit in coming weeks, contrasting his publicly financed run with the big-money campaigns of three Greenwich multi-millionaires who can afford to self-finance their runs for public office. Two are candidates for governor.

“I think people in Connecticut are going to get tired of how many people are spending potentially obscene amounts of money trying to purchase offices,” Malloy said. “They understand that most Connecticut residents are not in that position. They believe in representative government, and representative government is not government where only wealthy people can run for office.”

Connecticut will be a laboratory this year for campaign finance.

In the races for the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial nominations, the early front-runners are Greenwich business executives, Lamont and Tom Foley, who have opted out of the voluntary Citizens’ Election Program.

In the U.S. Senate race, which is not eligible for public financing, the front runners are two more wealthy Greenwich residents, Republican Linda McMahon and Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. McMahon vowed to spend $50 million of her own fortune in her first run try for public office.

Malloy is the former mayor of Stamford, a lawyer doing part-time consulting work since leaving office last year after 14 years. His wife runs a rape-crisis center.

To qualify for funding under the program, a candidate for governor must raise $250,000 in contributions of $100 or less, earn a place on the ballot and pledge to abide by spending limits.

The reward is $1.25 million for a primary, which likely will be doubled to $2.5 million to help offset Lamont’s expected spending. Malloy cannot collect the $1.25 million until his records are reviewed and he qualifies for the ballot at the Democratic nominating convention May 22.

If Malloy wins the Aug. 10 primary, he will receive $3 million for the general election, which would be doubled to $6 million if the Republican nominee exceeds the voluntary spending limits.

All told, Malloy could receive $8.5 million. In his 2006 run for U.S. Senate, Lamont spent $17 million of his own money. But Malloy said the public financing is enough to make a competitive run.

“We have done something together that no candidate running for governor has done before,” Malloy told several dozen supporters. “We have done something for the people of the state of Connecticut to prove to them that this system is working, needs to be preserved, needs to be honored by Democrats.”

A federal judge last summer declared elements of the public-financing law unconstitutional, saying it discriminated against minor-party candidates. The state appealed and is awaiting a decision from the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Legislative leaders say they will quickly respond with a legislative fix if the appeals court upholds the trial judge.

Malloy said he is confident that the legislature will preserve the Citizens’ Election Program and not change the rules in the middle of a campaign.

“We played by the rules. We succeeded under those rules. We passed the tests. I can’t believe the folks in this building wouldn’t make sure that that system’s not preserved,” he said.

Lamont congratulated Malloy on crossing the qualifying threshold.

“I congratulate Dan for achieving the goal that he’s been working towards for more than a year,” Lamont said in an emailed statement. “I’m a strong supporter of removing special interest money from the electoral process, which is why my campaign is not accepting donations from state contractors or lobbyists.”

Another reason is that such contributions are illegal, regardless of whether a candidate is accepting public financing or not.

Lamont said as governor he would work with the legislature to strengthen and preserve public financing, which was part of a reform package passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2005 as a reaction to the corruption scandal that forced Gov. John G. Rowland from office in 2004.

There is an irony in Glassman’s decision to run for lieutenant governor: She, too, now has raised the qualifying amounts for public financing.

A candidate for lieutenant governor needs to raise $75,000 to receive $375,000 in public financing for a primary. Glassman has raised $80,000 in small donations in her exploratory campaign that she can now apply to a run for lieutenant governor.

Last month, when it appeared that Malloy might be the only gubernatorial candidate to qualify for public financing, Glassman told the Mirror it was important for others to reach the threshold.

“If we can’t do it, that sends a message that only millionaires can run for office,” Glassman said. “And that would be a sad day for Connecticut.”

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run independently of each other in primaries, so Glassman will be able to accept public financing for her primary, even though Lamont is not.

There is no guarantee an entire ticket will prevail in a primary, as Glassman and Malloy well know. Four years ago, Malloy picked Glassman as his running mate.

She won her primary. Mallow narrowly lost his to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.