Emboldened by looser campaign-finance rules and a rainmaking governor, the Connecticut Democratic Party is raising money nearly three times faster for the 2014 election than it did four years ago in preparation for 2010. At the same time, Republican fundraising is stagnant.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a first-term Democrat up for re-election next year, is aggressively headlining his party’s fundraising, utilizing a law passed this year by the Democratic state legislature that doubles donor limits and allows the state parties to make unlimited expenditures to support candidates for the legislature, as well as governor.
The new rules apply to both parties, but the Democrats are cashing in.
The Democratic Party, which dominates the General Assembly and holds every statewide and congressional office, has raised more than $1.5 million since January in its state and federal campaign accounts, compared with $566,530 over the same period four years ago. And the numbers do not reflect proceeds from Malloy’s most recent fundraising efforts, a series of events a week ago in California.
While the Connecticut Republican Party nearly matched the Democrats dollar for dollar four years ago, the GOP now lags far behind, raising just $529,445 this year — slightly less than it did four years ago when Republican M. Jodi Rell was governor.
Of the $1.5 million raised this year by Democrats, $430,000 came from a roster of donors who wrote $10,000 checks, the maximum allowed by law. Those donors include top executives of the state’s largest utility, the company that manages state athletic venues, a major state landlord, a provider of state parking services and developers of major real-estate projects supported by state assistance.
Brian McAllister of New York, the chief executive of a ferry company that has urged the state to build a new terminal in Bridgeport, wrote two $10,000 checks, one for the party’s federal account and another to its state account.
The GOP has no similar roster.
Republicans say the disparity suggests a resurgence of a belief in “pay to play,” the perception that those who do business with the state are best served by making contributions, even if there are no explicit demands of a quid pro quo. Just as Republicans held the fundraising edge when John G. Rowland was governor, the advantage now clearly lies with Malloy’s party.
The governor’s new role in fundraising and the ability of the state parties to now make unlimited expenditures in legislative races are certain to test the sweeping campaign finance reforms passed in 2005 after a corruption scandal toppled Rowland: a ban on donations from state contractors, limits on lobbyist contributions and a voluntary system of publicly financed campaigns.
“The big concern is the fact that Gov. Malloy, with the help of a Democratic legislature, weakened our campaign finance laws, opened up those laws to allow greater influence of special interest money,” said Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, a candidate for governor. “And the governor is now engaging in raising as much of that special-interest money so it can be directly supportive of his re-election.”
Essentially, the state now has two sets of contradictory campaign financing rules: one provides public financing to candidates who agree to accept donations of no more than $100 and abide by spending limits that vary by office; the other allows maximum donations of $10,000 and unlimited spending.
Malloy stands astride both systems.
He is Connecticut’s first governor to win using public financing, defeating wealthy, self-funding opponents who outspent him in the Democratic primary and general election in 2010. Once he officially opens his 2014 campaign, he is expected to participate again in the system, formally known as the Citizens Election Program.
But as the titular head of the party, Malloy now is a fixture at big-dollar fundraisers, where donors, including state contractors who cannot donate directly to him, can write checks to the party or to the Democratic Governors Association, which spent $1.78 million in independent expenditures on his race in 2010. Its GOP counterpart spent $1.6 million in opposition.
Malloy said he is helping his party fill its coffers so it can act as a counterbalance to the unlimited independent spending now allowed by corporations and the super-rich under Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that political spending was a free-speech right.
“As a result, Democrats around the country are going to campaign pretty hard,” Malloy said last week, defending his fundraising. “And we’re not going to lay down because of what I think were misguided efforts by the Supreme Court.”
Democrats note that Tom Foley, the Republican nominee for governor in 2010 who created an exploratory committee for governor in the last month, already has a relationship with GOP national super PACS through an independent group he helped create last year, Voters for Good Government.
Malloy makes no apologies for his aggressive fundraising. Last week, he suggested there is only one limit on what he will do to be financially competitive. He told reporters, “Listen, this is what we’re going to do: We’re going to live by the law.”
Nonpartisan critics of the 2013 campaign-finance law say it blew a hole in the longstanding ban on coordination between a candidate and a group able to make independent expenditures in support of that candidate or in opposition to his opponent.
Malloy, who is not yet legally a candidate, is free to raise money for groups that later can make independent expenditures on his behalf, such as a political action committee formed by a friend, Prosperity for Connecticut, which has $100,000 in the bank. The group has raised no money this year, but Malloy attended its fundraisers last year.
“That law embedded the language that allows candidate to be fundraising for entities that can be doing independent expenditures,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, a senior executive at Common Cause. “That, I consider coordination. Our law says it’s not coordination. That’s B.S.”
The ban on state-contractor contributions already had a loophole. State parties have state and federal accounts, and the contractors are free to write checks of up to $10,000 to the federal accounts. Despite their name, the federal accounts pay most of the parties’ operating expenses, not just its support of congressional candidates.
“The federal account is our workhorse account,” said Jonathan Harris, the executive director of the state Democratic Party. “We run our operations, our salaries, our rent on federal dollars.”
The GOP does the same. This year, the state Democratic Party raised $1.2 million of its $1.5 million through its federal account. Republicans used theirs to raise $424,994 of their $529,445.
Donors wrote 34 $10,000 checks to the Democrats’ federal account and nine to the state account. Until this year, the maximum contribution to the state account was $5,000.
The maximum donors to the state account included Philadephia Flyers owner Edward Snider, the chief executive of Spectacor, the company that won the right earlier this year to manage two major state-owned venues, the XL Center in Hartford and Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
Another with a sports connection was Lewis Katz, a fomer owner of the New Jersey Nets, the NBA team now ensconced in Brooklyn under new ownership. David Stern, who is stepping down as commissioner of the NBA, gave $5,000.
Simon and Steven Konover, whose real estate holdings include a building leased to the state, each gave $10,000 to the federal account. Alan Lazowski of Laz Parking gave $10,000.
Jonathan Sackler and Mary Corson, a Greenwich couple who supports charter schools, each gave $10,000. Sackler also is a director of Stamford-based Purdue Pharma.
Overall, executives from Northeast Utilities gave the party $35,750, including $10,000 from its chief executive officer, Thomas May of Westwood, Mass.
Members of Berkowitz, Trager & Trager, a law firm whose clients include major real estate developers and hedge funds, gave $13,500. Officials at Athena Healthcare, the owner of a nurisng home chain, gave $21,950.
Two officials of Bridgeport Landing, the developer of the state-assisted Steelpointe mixed-used project in Bridgeport, gave $11,000. Two developers of a New Haven project assisted by the state each donated $10,000.
Malloy and Harris declined to discuss the party’s fundraising strategy. Harris paused when asked if the party is finding it easier to raise money with the help of an incumbent governor
“It’s always great to have an incumbent governor for public policy and a whole host of reasons,” Harris said. After another pause, he added, “His name does mean something.”
Correction: As originally posted, this story incorrectly identified Michael Konover, not Steven Konover, as a donor.