Republican State Chairman Chris Healy undercut Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Thursday over the Republican governor’s efforts to preserve one of her legacies: the Citizens’ Election Program.

Healy issued a statement criticizing efforts by Rell and legislative Democrats to salvage a program that created a voluntary system of publicly financing campaigns. The state is under court pressure to abandon or amend the program.

“Any efforts by the Democrats or the Rell administration, to reform a system that will cost $60 million this year, are misplaced and distract from the serious work of balancing the budget with spending cuts and regulatory relief,” the statement said.

Healy’s statement not only puts him at odds with Rell, but several Republican candidates for governor who intend to participate in a program that provides qualifying candidates with $1.25 million for a gubernatorial primary and $3 million for a general election.

“The taxpayer financed system is political welfare and Democrats should allow the courts to wipe it from the books,” Healy said. “How can anyone ask a taxpayer to pay for a politician’s political campaign when a $500 million deficit gathers interest each day with a $3 billion shortfall on the horizon?”

A spokesman for Rell said the governor had no comment.

A federal judge declared the Citizens’ Election Program unconstitutional, saying it discriminates against minor-party candidates. Democratic legislators released their proposal for fixing the program this week.

The early leader for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, is not seeking public financing, but Republicans who are include Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.

The General Assembly created the Citizens’ Election Program in 2005 after months of negotiations with Rell, who proposed barring campaign contributions by lobbyists and state contractors. As a compromise, Rell and the legislature’s Democratic majority agreed on a lobbyist’ ban and public financing.

In a telephone interview Thursday night, Healy said his opposition should come as no surprise to the governor.

“I’ve publicly differed with her from the get go. I’m not being obstreperous,” Healy said.

He has the backing of the Republican State Central Committee, which also has supported a resolution opposing the public financing of campaigns. Only three Republican senators and House Republicans backed the program’s passage.

“If we are going to be a serious party about deficit reduction here, it’s a no-brainer,” Healy said.

Rell has said scuttling the new system so late in the political cycle would be unfair to candidates. It is not an argument that moves Healy.

“We change the rules in this legislature on a dime. Too bad,” Healy said. “If tomorrow this law was struck down, then people would have to go out and raise money.”

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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