Senate votes to increase campaign grants for gubernatorial races

The Senate voted tonight in special session to double to $6 million the general-election grant for gubernatorial candidates participating in the state’s public financing program.

The bill passed 23-12, one vote shy of a veto-proof majority. Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, was absent for the vote.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has promised to veto any proposal that increases base grants for candidates.

Lawmakers convened today to amend the Citizens’ Election Program in response to a recent federal appeals court ruling that said providing additional money in to match an opponent’s spending is unconstitutional.

Under the original law, a gubernatorial candidate who qualifies for public financing can get basic grants of $1.25 million for a primary and $3 million for the general election. Depending on their opponent’s spending, they could double their grants with supplemental awards.

Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican Michael Fedele have each received $2.5 million in public financing for their primaries — amounts triggered by the spending of their wealthy and largely self-funded opponents, Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Tom Foley.

“The idea is to make sure we have a grant that is competitive,” said Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s elections committee, justifying the increase.

The action taken today increases the basic grant for the general election to $6 million, the maximum a participating candidate could have received under the existing law.

The House is expected to approve the bill later tonight.

Rell and Republican leaders have said they object to increasing the grants because of the large deficits the state faces.

“This state is broke. We don’t have any more money to spend,” said Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury.

But Democrats counter that this will not increase spending, and the Office of Fiscal Analysis reports the increase would fall within the existing program’s budget.

“The money is there. It is sitting there,” said Slossberg.

McLachlan responded saying: “Just because the money is there doesn’t mean you spend it. … We have the oportunity to spend less money. Let’s do it.”

Fedele said during an interview before the Senate vote that it will not be additional spending by the state, and that he will live with whatever lawmakers decide.

“That money is already anticipated,” Fedele said. “It’s not an increase to the amount.”

State lawmakers must pass, and the governor must sign, changes to the CEP or the whole program is at risk of being invalidated. The way the law is currently written, if one section of the law is ruled unconstitutional, the whole law is thrown out.

The Senate voted to fix the sections ruled unconstitutional; a ban on lobbyist contributions and a ban on matching grants when facing a highly-financed candidate. The bill would allow lobbyists to contribute up to $100 to candidates and throws out the matching grants. They also voted that future court decisions will not put the whole program at risk, but would just throw out the sections of the law ruled unconstitutional.