Rell: No to more campaign funds

Gov. M. Jodi Rell notified lawmakers Thursday that she will veto any proposal to fix the state’s public campaign finance system if it includes increasing the grant amounts.

“At a time we are facing a huge budget deficit, expect to borrow approximately $700 million to pay our expenses for the current fiscal year and shortly will need to make another round of rescissions, we should not be contemplating increasing these grants. How could we possibly explain such an action to our taxpayers?” she wrote.

State lawmakers plan to convene Friday to to fix the Citizens’ Election Program, following the recent federal appeals court ruling that said providing additional grant money to publicly-financed candidates up against wealthy self-funded candidates is unconstitutional.

Democratic leaders  have said they do not believe increasing the base grants would mean spending beyond the current budget for the program. The legislature’s budget office will make a cost estimate as soon as a bill is introduced.

“The funds were already projected to be spent for supplemental grants–at all levels–so the money is in the Citizens Election Fund,” said Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, co-chairman on the legislature’s election committee.

Nancy Nicolescu, spokeswoman for the CEP, said the program’s current budget can afford to double the grants for the gubernatorial races to $6 million and increase the five constitutional office grants — for attorney general, comptroller, secretary of the state, lieutenant governor and treasurer — by $250,000.

“If they do that, it would actually be a decrease in spending for what we had projected for this election,” she said. “This is a net savings. They could easily afford to double the base grant amount and the fund would remain sufficient.”

Rell spokeswoman Donna Tommelleo, said she believes the governor would veto any increase in grants, regardless if it could be done within the program’s existing budget for this election cycle.

Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate, but it is not certain they could override Rell on a campaign finance bill.

Senate President Don Williams, D-Brooklyn said his caucus did a teleconference Thursday to tally if they have the votes needed to overcome Rell’s expected veto. He said it is too early to tell if votes are there. However, it is likely they will need at least one Republican, since Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, has been a vocal opponent of spending money on the program with a multi-billion deficit coming up.

Williams said Rell’s promised veto is surprising, given her history as a supporter of the program.

“It undercuts the entire system,” he said.

Rell did say she was able to agree with leaders to fix other parts of the CEP, including limiting lobbyists from donating more than $100 to a campaign.