Fedele’s campaign funding thwarted by his own party

From the start of his gubernatorial campaign, Republican Michael Fedele has counted on the state’s public financing system–a system that promised him $3 million for the general election, plus up to $3 million more if he faced an opponent who exceeded spending limits.

Now, in a twist caused by the confluence of the law and politics, Democrats want to give him that second $3 million whether he needs it or not, and the Republican governor and legislators he served with for years are determined not to let him have it.

It’s nothing personal, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell Monday vetoed a bill that would have doubled the basic general election grant to $6 million. The majority Democrats, who support the bill, may try to override her, but Republican legislators say they won’t help.

So does Fedele, Rell’s lieutenant governor, resent his boss’s decision to veto the bill? Has he been lobbying Republican lawmakers to reconsider opposition to the measure and help override Rell?

No and no, he said. “I figure I will leave this one up to the legislature and the governor to work out.”

The governor and the legislature are trying to deal with a federal appeals court ruling that granting supplemental funds to a publicly-funded candidate if a self-funded opponent exceeds a statutory limit is unconstitutional. Democrats want to double the base grant to $6 million; Republican legislators and Rell say the base grant should remain at $3 million.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said calling Fedele to let him know the House Republican caucus will not budge was “one of the toughest conversations I have had, being a personal endorser of him. … You don’t make laws based on individuals or individual circumstances. It’s not what you do.”

Following Rell’s veto on Monday, Democratic leaders vowed to try to gather the votes to override. But whether that would be before next week’s primary — which will determine the final lineup for the governor’s race — was still not determined by Tuesday night.

In both the Republican and Democrat primaries there is a publicly financed candidate against a self-financed millionaire — so there’s a chance of a repeat scenario in the general election. Fedele and Democrat Dan Malloy are participating in the Citizens’ Election Program. Financing their campaigns themselves are Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Tom Foley. Republican Oz Griebel also opted out of the public finance system, but he lack’s Lamont and Foley’s resources and is way behind the other candidates in fund raising.

Fedele said he would abide by whatever the legislature decides.

“We will live with whatever the governor and the legislature decides the CEP should look like … We will end up using whatever is left of the CEP,” he said during an interview Tuesday.

Fedele insisted he could put on a competitive campaign against the self-financed Lamont without an increase in the base grant.

“Look, the CEP never, even from its initial concept, ever did a dollar-for-dollar match” against a wealthy self-funder, he said. “My sense is whatever survives in the CEP, based on what the legislature and governor do, I think we will be able to effectively run a good campaign.”

Malloy, who could face self-financed Foley in the general election, has not been as sanguine, saying he was depending on matching grants if he faces a high-spending opponent and would be at a disadvantage if the base grants are not increased.

However, whether Democrats have the votes to override Rell and increase the grant remains to be seen.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said Monday he believes he has the votes in the Senate. But whether the votes are there in the state House of Representatives is still unclear.

The House Democrats have enough members to override a veto, but fell 26 votes short of a veto-proof majority when the bill was passed Friday–18 Democrats voted no and 21 were absent.

Doug Whiting, a spokesman for House Democrats, said they are looking at taking up the measure again either later this week or next week. He said he is not sure if there are enough votes to override.

If Democrats fail to override the governor, they still must fix the portions of the law ruled unconstitutional — including the state’s ban on lobbyists’ contributions — or the whole program will be thrown out. The governor and lawmakers have agreed to restrict lobbyist’s donations to $100.

But how to keep races competitive in light of the matching grants being thrown out remains to be determined.

“I’ve heard a lot of different options by both sides, I really don’t know at this point,” Fedele said.

Cafero’s suggestion: allow gubernatorial candidates to raise up to $3 million in additional money for their campaigns in donations of no more than $2,500.

“It’s not just an all out ‘No, Mike, you are stuck with the $3 million.’ We recognize that the circumstances, given the court order, could put these two participating candidates at a disadvantage.”