Don’t undermine the Citizens’ Election Program

The landmark Citizens’ Election Program represents the most comprehensive and successful effort to remove special interest money from the political system undertaken by any state in U.S. history. With the two initial runs of the program, the state has made enormous progress, transforming our state from “Corrupticut,” an example of rampant wrongdoing after years of scandal, to a model for campaign financing and the future of democracy.

Despite the program’s overwhelming success in 2008 and 2010–when all six of Connecticut’s constitutional officers and 74% of legislators were elected using public financing–the budget plan proposed by the Governor and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly dissects the existing program and sends core functions to three separate places. The proposal transfers oversight of the program from the nonpartisan State Elections Enforcement Commission to an elected official, the Secretary of the State, whose office would make decisions on grants.

This proposal to divide core functions of the Citizens’ Election Program and remove oversight by the nonpartisan commission threatens to undermine the integrity and nonpartisanship of the program.

The Governor and the General Assembly have demonstrated strong support of the program in the past.

Yes, there is a fiscal crisis to address in the state. But the Citizens’ Election Program can be streamlined without divorcing enforcement duties from campaign oversight functions and audit obligations, and sending a large portion of the program to be administered by the office of an elected official.

I truly respect the Secretary of the State, but I do not believe that the office of any partisan elected official should determine who is qualified for public financing.

The Secretary of the State is an elected official who, under state law, may qualify for a grant from the public financing program. In this instance, you will have a potential recipient of a grant overseeing how applications are reviewed and what qualifies a candidate for a public grant.

Further, the Citizens’ Election Program needs compliance, auditing, and enforcement to work together in order to operate properly.

Compliance staff and elections officers help campaigns participating in the program stay within the guidelines. Auditors ensure that only qualified committees receive public grants, and after elections, review expenditures to make certain that campaigns did not misuse public funds or violate mandatory expenditure limits. Enforcement attorneys prosecute those few individuals who violate significant program requirements.

Breaking up these related functions into three separate agencies creates an unnecessary risk that core functions will not be covered. This concern is exacerbated by the fact that the proposal appears to eliminate much of the audit staff currently charged with ensuring that public funds are not misused by campaigns.

Connecticut has been through enough controversy before the state hit upon a process that has begun to return government to the people of Connecticut.

As the Citizens’ Election Program moves from its infancy, we should not jeopardize its future in this way.

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