Republicans hopes to make Malloy pay a price for public financing

Democratic leaders of the state House want to give publicly financed gubernatorial candidates $3 million more for their campaigns. Would Dan Malloy be better off if they fail?

Malloy, a Democrat and the only remaining publicly financed candidate for governor, would be the sole beneficiary if the House votes today to override the veto of a bill doubling the gubernatorial general-election grant to $6 million.

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.

The bill was politically neutral on July 30, when it was passed by the House and Senate.

There were two publicly financed candidates then for governor then, Malloy and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele. No one knew if the new $6 million grant amount would help a Democrat, a Republican, neither or both.

Malloy won his primary Tuesday, but Fedele lost his to Tom Foley, a Greenwich businessman who loaned his own campaign $3 million to go with the $700,000 he raised.

Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chairwoman, 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 end up with $5.5 million in public financing for the year: $2.5 million for the primary and $3 million for the general election.

Gov. M. Jodi 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.

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, a long-time supporter of public financing, said his count Thursday showed the Democrats with the requisite votes.

“I think we’ll be all right,” said Donovan, who supported Malloy’s self-funded opponent in the primary, Ned Lamont.

The original campaign finance law provides qualifying gubernatorial candidates with base grants of $1.25 million for a primary and $3 million for the general election.

They also could get supplemental grants up to the base amounts, triggered by excess spending by an opponent or an independent group.

But a federal appeals court struck down key provisions of the law, including the supplemental grants.

Malloy and Fedele each received $2.5 million for their primaries to partially offset spending by their opponents, but a federal judge Wednesday issued an order enforcing the appellate decision.

The legislation before the House increases the basic grant for the general election to $6 million. The increase is legal, so long as it is not triggered by another candidate’s spending.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said his objection to the bill has to do with state spending, not Dan Malloy.

“We are literally running out of cash as a state,” said Cafero, who voted against the bill on July 30, despite being a friend and supporter of Fedele.

Acknowledging that Democrats originated the bill when it could have benefitted a Republican over a Democrat, Cafero said he is disinclined to use today’s debate to score political points against Malloy.

“I’m not going to be disingenuous about it,” Cafero said.

Donovan said he is not concerned about Democrats being accused of essentially appropriating an extra $3 million for the party’s nominee for governor.

“We voted for it before the primary,” he said.

The bill passed 75 to 45, with 21 Democrats absent and 18 opposed. If all 21 are present and vote yes, the Democrats still need to find five votes among the 18 Democrats who opposed passage.

“The Democrats have done everything wrong the last couple of years in terms of fiscal issues,” Healy said. “It doesn’t surprise me they are so tone deaf that they think they can pull this off.”

Malloy has no plans to be at the State Capitol today, with or without a tin cup. He favors passage, but he has not helped Democratic leaders round up the votes for an override, his staff said.

“All the bill does is maintain the integrity of the system,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, a media adviser to Malloy. “I don’t think we pay a price at all.”

Healy publicly called on Malloy to reject the additional money.

Jonathan Pelto, the former political director of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said Malloy has little choice but to accept the money, given that no one knows how much money Foley will spend.

Under the terms of the public financing program, Malloy is barred from raising additional funds.

“The benefit of $3 million in TV ads far outweighs the relatively minor impact of taking the funds,” Pelto said. “Anybody who is really opposed to public financing is likely to vote for Foley anyway.”

Richard Foley, a former GOP state chairman, said Malloy will “take a ration of aggravation” if the legislature increases the gubernatorial grant. Exactly how much aggravation is up to Tom Foley.

The Republican nominee could inflict political damage, if he can translate the issue into effective campaign advertising, he said.

“The ball’s in Tom’s court,” he said.