Connecticut will play big money role in presidential race

Washington — Benjamin Buswell, a Granby resident, was concerned enough about the Obama campaign’s fundraising strength that, last summer, he sent Republican Mitt Romney $2,500.

“I read articles about the amount of money that is going to be raised by the Democratic Party, and I wanted to help Romney,” Buswell, the innovation manager at Hartford Insurance, said.

James Alstadter, owner of a marketing firm in Canton, said he was spurred to give $75 to the president’s re-election campaign last summer by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows political donations by unions and corporations.

“I am very concerned about the impact it will have on the race,” Alstadter said. “And I’m going to make small donations whenever I have extra money.”

The size of the donations by the two Connecticut donors — even before the caucuses and primaries started — may be different, but they typify the state’s role as a cash cow in presidential politics.

Connecticut’s 20-year history as a loyal supporter of Democratic presidential candidates — the state gave Obama 61 percent of the vote in 2008 — probably means that none of the presidential candidates will physically spend much time in the state between now and November, but they will look to the state for more money than ever to run their campaigns.

“The whole New York-Connecticut area is very rich,” said American University professor Allan Lichtman, an expert in presidential politics. “Connecticut is definitely going to be a fundraising target for both the Democratic and Republican parties.”

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Connecticut donors will give more this year than the $24.3 million they donated to presidential candidates in 2008. Connecticut residents will also give millions more to a number of political action committees, or PACs, that support the presidential candidates.

But Connecticut’s actual contribution to this year’s presidential campaign may never be known.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision gave rise to super PACs that are pouring money into the presidential race — supposedly independent of candidate campaigns.

“So much of the money now is going to ‘independent’ groups that don’t have to identify their donors,” Ornstein said. “And a substantial amount of that money is going to come from hedge fund managers and other wealthy people in Connecticut. Fundraisers go where the money is.”

Ornstein thinks some of the millions of dollars raised by Crossroads GPS has come from Connecticut. Crossroads GPS, which supports Republican candidates and works hand-in-hand with former White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and the American Crossroads PAC, is not required to disclose where its money comes from.

But some Connecticut contributions to presidential campaigns are disclosed.

More money than most

According to the Federal Election Commission, as of Dec. 31, Connecticut residents gave nearly $3.9 million to the campaigns of President Obama and several Republicans vying to unseat the president.

That’s more than any New England state, except Massachusetts which gave nearly $8 million. But Massachusetts has nearly twice the population of Connecticut and a favorite son — former Gov. Mitt Romney — in the race.

To put Connecticut’s role as a political cash cow in perspective, a number of  larger states have given a lot less. Ohio residents have donated about $2.5 million, North Carolinians, $2.3 million, and Wisconsinites, $1.1 million.

As of Dec. 31, Romney raised $2.7 million in the state. More than $2.6 million came from residents of Fairfield County and the surrounding area.

Obama’s campaign raised $1.1 million. About a third of that money also came from the southwest corner of the state, but Obama received more support than Romney from all other areas in the state. The president also received more small donations than Romney.

Federal campaign laws allow individuals to give up to $5,000 to a candidate.

After Romney and Obama, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican, raised the most money in Connecticut in 2011, about $168,000. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also a Republican, raised about $108,000, and all other GOP White House hopefuls less than $100,000.