Fedele’s path to public financing gets steeper

Public broadcasting offers donors a tote bag. Give Michael C. Fedele’s campaign for governor “a one-time contribution of $25, $50 or $100,” and he promises a tax freeze.

A no-tax pledge emailed to potential donors over the weekend is Fedele’s latest pitch for the contributions he badly needs to qualify for public financing of at least $1.25 million for the Republican primary.

Three weeks after Fedele promised he nearly had the $250,000 in qualifying donations of no more than $100, Fedele said Monday night that he’s still “probably 10 days” away from having the money — the same estimate his campaign has given since May 22, when he lost the GOP convention endorsement to Tom Foley.

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Michael Fedele

He now has a new hurdle: an increasingly open effort by Foley, a wealthy Greenwich businessman and former U.S. ambassador, to crimp Fedele’s campaign by blocking or delaying him from obtaining public money.

With eight weeks until the Aug. 10 primary, Foley’s campaign has taken on a sharper tone as he tries to fend off two challengers for the GOP nomination: Fedele, the lieutenant governor, and Oz Griebel, the president of the MetroHartford Alliance.

His campaign manager sent an email blast last week criticizing Fedele for seeking public financing under the Citizens’ Election Program, a reform signed into law by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2005.

On Monday, Foley said he wants Republicans to know that that a contribution of $50 or $100 to Fedele could “open the door to public money to fight a fellow Republican.”

“If people know that and they are still willing to contribute, that’s fine,” Foley said. “We just wanted to make sure people knew what they were doing when they contributed to his campaign.”

Fedele, the only Republican candidate for governor seeking public financing, said after leaving a fundraiser in Stamford that Foley is trying to win by having the biggest bank account.

“I think Tom Foley believes the only people who should be eligible for pubic office are people like him who are super wealthy or have friends in high places,” Fedele said.

His high school classmate, endorsed Democrat Dan Malloy, is the only statewide candidate to qualify so far. He recently received nearly $2.2 million in public financing — a basic grant of $1.25 million and supplemental funds to match the spending of his primary opponent, Ned Lamont.

The voluntary Citizens’ Election Program provides gubernatorial candidates grants of $1.25 million for a primary and $3 million for a general election, with the possibility of matching funds that could double the grants.

With Democrats generally supportive of public financing, Malloy’s email pitches for money celebrated the milestone he was about reach.

“We are less than $12,000 away from qualifying. This moment is history. This is amazing,” Malloy said in an email on April 29. “Be a part of history with us.”

Realizing that many Republicans are cool to the program, Fedele’s hook was a promise to veto any tax increase.

“But in order to take my message of fiscal accountability to voters across the state, we must first qualify for the Citizens Election Program,” Fedele said. “Will you help me reach that goal with a one-time contribution of $25, $50 or $100?

Fedele said he did not know how much money he needed to hit $250,000.

“I leave all the numbers to the treasurer,” Fedele said. “They’ll tell me when I’m done.”

The last public view of his finances came in April, when he reported having raising $122,000 through the end of March.

Fedele had reacted quickly to Rell announcing her retirement in November. He was raising money by December 1 and took in $67,073 by the end of the year. If he continued that pace, he would have qualified by now, but donations dropped off sharply.

He collected only $55,474 in the first three months of 2010, a monthly rate of $18,491. At that pace, he won’t reach $250,000 until late September. The State Elections Enforcement Commission’s deadline for filing his application is 5 p.m. on July 16.

The commission requires a week to consider and approve each application for funds. If Fedele raises the rest of the qualifying funds in 10 days, the soonest the commission could approve his application and wire his campaign the money would be June 30.

With public money in hand, Malloy is acting on its campaign plan by hiring field staff and gearing up for television commercials.

Fedele said he can be ready to make those same moves as soon as he qualifies.

“You don’t need money to plan,” he said. “You need money to execute.”