Outside spending on Connecticut’s closely contested race for governor reached a record $18.2 million in 2014, a five-fold increase from 2010 that dwarfed the $6.5 million in public financing allotted to each of the major-party candidates.
The tsunami of cash, including more than $1 million in untraceable “dark money,” threatens to overwhelm the state’s voluntary system of public financing, a bipartisan reform passed in 2005 in reaction to a scandal that forced Gov. John G. Rowland from office.
“That’s an ungodly amount of money,” said Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, the incoming Senate minority leader.
But given the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, which treats campaign cash as political speech and bars legislatures from setting limits on independent expenditures, legislators and advocates say they see no way to curb the flow of outside money.
“I’m not sure what we can do at this point to put that genie back in the bottle,” said House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.
“We have to recognize the world is different than what it was before Citizens United,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, the incoming Senate president pro tem.
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, the incoming House minority leader, “The money is going to get through somehow. The Supreme Court has decided it’s unconstitutional to limit that money.”
Other outside influences
The stunning scale of outside money was only one of several developments in the 2014 election cycle that raised questions about the continued relevance of the campaign finance reforms passed by a Democratic legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2005.
Republicans say Democrats violated the spirit, if not the actual letter of a provision banning state contractor contributions to state races by using money raised under federal rules, which allow contractor contributions, to support Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election over Tom Foley, the Republican he beat in 2010.
Fasano said he would like to see campaign finance laws strengthened to limit how money raised under federal campaign finance rules can be used on state campaigns, especially those involving participants in the voluntary system of public financing.
The GOP also filed a complaint accusing Ted Kennedy Jr., a Democrat from Branford who won an open state Senate seat, of circumventing the strict contribution and spending limits on candidates participating in the public-financing program.
As a publicly financed candidate, Kennedy could accept qualifying contributions of no more than $100, but he and family members and friends gave as much as $10,000 each to the state party, which in turn spent more than $140,000 to support his election — more than double what Kennedy was allowed in public financing.
“I’m very disturbed by that,” Sharkey said. “We have to take a look at that situation.”
Kennedy’s campaign denied any wrongdoing. The matter is pending before the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Cheri Quickmire, the executive director of Common Cause, said her organization will be seeking a comprehensive review of campaign finance law after the General Assembly convenes in January.
Better disclosure for the sources of outside money and the loopholes that allowed banned state contractor money to indirectly flow into state races need to be examined, she said.
It’s a call welcomed by Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, the co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, which oversees campaign finance law.
“I think we should take a broad look at just about everything,” Jutila said. “I share some of the concerns that the advocacy groups have, the good government organizations.”
Democrats said Kennedy had been concerned his family name makes him a target of national conservative groups, but no state legislative race attracted significant out-of-state money.
Two years ago, a super PAC called Voters for Good Government was created in the final weeks of the campaign and quickly spent more than $300,000 to defeat a half-dozen incumbent Democrats, mostly in the state Senate.
Democratic legislators thought that Voters for Good Government foreshadowed an onslaught of independent expenditures on legislative races in 2014, but the contest for governor, which remained a tossup until Election Day, attracted all major outside spending.
An even fight
Like the arms race of the Cold War, the tide of outside money that flowed into Connecticut did not yield an appreciable advantage for Malloy, the victorious Democratic incumbent, or Foley.
An analysis by The Mirror found that only $400,000 separated the independent expenditures on behalf of the two candidates: $9.3 million in support of Malloy vs. $8.9 million in support of Foley.
In 2010, when Malloy and Foley were the nominees for an open seat, outside spending only reached $3.6 million, most of which came from the Democratic Governors Association ($1.78 million) and the Republican Governors’ Association ($1.61 million.)
This year, the Democratic and Republican governors’ groups influenced the race through two state PACs that dominated outside spending.
The DGA contributed about $4 million to its state affiliate, Connecticut Forward, which also was the recipient of union contributions. The RGA gave $5.5 million to Grow Connecticut, a political action committee whose other contributions included nearly $1.2 million in dark money from A Public Voice, an Ohio non-profit group whose donors are not public.
According to the most recent reports on file with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Connecticut Forward owed $111,478 in expenses incurred but not paid. Grow Connecticut owed nearly $1.3 million.
The only other super PAC that spent more than $1 million was the Independence USA PAC, a group financed by former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to promote gun control.
Grow Connecticut, Connecticut Forward, Independence USA and Common Sense Connecticut, a local affiliate of another national gun-control group, spent the vast majority of their money on television advertising, most of it negative.
The only other PAC that invested more than $100,000 in the race was Working Families of Connecticut, which spent $710,855 to support Malloy, mostly with canvassing and other get-out-the-vote efforts.
Ultimately, Malloy won by just under three percentage points, 50.7 percent to 48.2 percent in what had been a three-way race. Petitioning candidate Joe Visconti suspended his campaign two days before the election, but he remained on the ballot.
|Grow Connecticut||$8,850,623||Foley||Republican Governors Association|
|Connecticut Forward||$6,004,604||Malloy||Democratic Governors Association|
|Independence USA PAC||$1,716,698||Malloy||Michael R. Bloomberg|
|Common Sense Connecticuticut||$744,994||Malloy||Americans For Responsible Solutions|
|Working Families for Connecticut||$710,855||Malloy||Unions|
|National Shooting Sports Foundation||$59,998||Foley|
|Connecticut Voters for Gun Safety||$41,423||Malloy|
|Connecticut Education Association||$19,375||Malloy|
|NRA Political Victory Fund||$10,284||Foley|