House vote adds $3 million to public funding for governor

The House of Representatives voted 106 to 30 today override a veto of a bill that preserves the state’s public financing of campaigns and doubles the general-election grant for gubernatorial candidates.

Today’s vote means that Dan Malloy, a Democrat and the only remaining publicly financed candidate for governor, can expect to receive $6 million next week from the Citizens’ Election Program, instead of $3 million.

“Today, the Legislature saw fit to preserve a system that gives candidates who aren’t wealthy a chance to compete and the ability to run a campaign that isn’t funded by corporate and special interests,” Malloy said in a statement emailed to reporters.

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House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero objecting to today’s override. (Mark Pazniokas)

When the bill originally passed on July 30, legislators did not know if the bill would favor a Democrat, a Republican or neither.

The only publicly financed Republican candidate for governor, Michael C. Fedele, lost the GOP primary Tuesday to Tom Foley, a Greenwich businessman who loaned his own campaign $3 million. In the Democratic primary, Malloy defeated Ned Lamont, who gave his own campaign $8.6 million.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said the bill was wrongly titled as An Act Concerned Clean Elections. It should have been called “An Act Concerning Dan Malloy,” Cafero said.

“In my 18 years in the House of Representatives,” Cafero said, he could not recall “the House passing a bill for one man.”

A unified Democratic caucus cast all 106 yea votes, five more than needed to override Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto. The Senate voted to override last week.

Rep. Shawn W. Johnston of Thompson was the only one of the 114 House Democrats to vote against the override. Seven others were absent. All 29 Republicans present voted to uphold the override. Eight others were absent.

Eleven of the 18 Democrats who voted against the bill last month swtiched to override. They are:

Jason W. Bartlett of Bethel, Juan R. Candelaria of New Haven, Paul Davis of Orange, Kim Fawcett of Fairfield, Karen Jarmoc of Enfield, Christopher Lyddy of Newtown, Corky Mazurek of Wolcott, Steven Mikutel of Griswold, Frank N. Nicastro Sr. of Bristol, Kathleen M. Tallarita of Enfield and Chris Wright of Bristol.

The bill is a reaction to a court decision that otherwise limits the available public financing for governor, not the result of lobbying by the Malloy campaign.

But some Republicans intend to make Malloy pay a political price for accepting more money from the Citizens’ Election Program in the midst of a fiscal crisis.

“The fact that Dan Malloy is rattling his tin cup outside the legislature is absurd. Dan Malloy should be ashamed of himself,” said Chris Healy, the Republican state chairman.

Healy stood outside the chamber before the vote with a tin cup, affixed with Malloy’s name and photo. It contained coins and a dollar bill.

Beth Rotman, the executive director of the Citizens’ Election Program, confronted Healy, who told her he would continue to work for the abolition of the program.

Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chairwoman, had offered Healy a deal on limiting campaign expenses.

“If Healy really feels so strongly about limiting the amount of money going into the Citizens’ Election Program, here’s an idea: if he can convince Tom Foley to abide by a $3 million spending limit in the general, I’m quite certain that I can get Dan Malloy to do the same,” she said. “We’ll wait for his answer.”

Under existing law, Malloy would have ended up with $5.5 million in public financing for the year: $2.5 million for the primary and $3 million for the general election.

Rell vetoed the bill shortly after passage, saying $3 million was sufficient for a general-election campaign. But no candidate has won with so little general-election money in recent decades. Rell spent $4 million on her 2006 campaign, while Gov. John G. Rowland spent $6.6 million in 2002 and $6.9 million in 1998.

The Senate overrode Rell’s veto five days before the primary, but the House was unable to round up the 101 votes necessary for an override until this week.

The delay put the House in the position of passing a bill with a provision that benefits only Malloy.

“That perception is terrible,” said Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan. “The conclusions that people will draw from that are terrible.”

Several of the Democrats who switched defended their votes, knowing that Republicans may use them against them in re-election campaigns.

“I wanted to make my decision based on policy,” Rep. Jason W. Bartlett, D-Bethel, said afterward, explaining why he reversed his earlier position and supported the override today. Leaving publicly financed candidates with no option to counter a self-funded opponent who spends huge dollars late in the race “really hobbles anyone participating in the program.”

Bartlett added that the legislation enacted today isn’t perfect, ‘but time is running out. Much of my consideration was about timing and coming up with a fair process.”

Another Democrat who switched positions to support the override, Frank N. Nicastro Sr. of Bristol, said he feared the entire campaign finance system enacted in 2005 to clean up state elections was in jeopardy if nothing was done.

“We needed to do this today to move this whole thing forward,” he said. “We can work on it some more in the session next year.”

Nicastro disagreed with Republicans who argued most voters would disagree with increasing public grants for gubernatorial candidates. “I truly did a lot of soul searching and talked to a lot of my constituents,” he said, adding Bristol residents want to see the current campaign finance system preserved. “They said, ‘Frank, do what you have to do.'”

But Cafero said afterward that the Democrats’ intentions will be obvious to the voters.

“I think the people are going to see it for what it was,” he said. “The primary substance of this bill was an act concerning Dan Malloy, and no one else.”

Rell said the legislature was wrong to provide additional funds for the program as the state continues to struggle with deficit projections:

“At a time when Connecticut families continue to struggle to recover from a recession and the state faces the possibility of additional budget cuts to offset declining federal revenue, spending an additional $3 million on political campaigns is a difficult decision to defend, to say the least.”

Four hours after the House vote, the Foley campaign issued a statement by its campaign manager, Justin Clark: “It is appalling that at a time of great need and sacrifice among the people of Connecticut that our public servants are willing to throw even more taxpayer money to win an election.”