Greenwich hedge-fund manager David Stemerman put down a big marker Tuesday in his newly opened campaign for governor of Connecticut, filing a finance report that shows an initial personal investment of $1.8 million in his first race for statewide office.
“We kind of think that the report speaks for itself. We think that people will understand what it means,” said a political consultant advising Stemerman, a Republican. He spoke on the condition he not be identified.
Stemerman is not the only businessman seeking the GOP nomination — or putting his own money into a campaign. In his first filing since announcing his candidacy last month, Robert Stefanowski, a former senior executive at UBS, reported raising $315,313, including $250,000 of his own money.
By comparison, the gubernatorial candidate to raise the most money without self-funding is Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury. He has raised $255,000 in individual donations of no more than $100 each, the maximum allowed under Connecticut’s voluntary public financing program. Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti follows with nearly $230,000.
Stemerman’s contribution appeared to be a message to the candidates seeking public financing. It gives him more money for a primary than a publicly financed candidate, whose budget would be a little more than $1.6 million — $250,000 in qualifying contributions and a grant of about $1.4 million.
Stemerman, 48, notified investors last month he was closing Conatus Capital Management in December with the intention of launching a campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018.
His contribution came on Sept. 29, four days after opening a campaign committee and one day before the end of the third-quarter campaign finance period. His only other contribution was $1,000 from his treasurer, Henry O. Schaffer.
Stemerman created a campaign committee without a public announcement. His adviser said Stemerman currently is performing “due diligence” before ramping up a campaign to succeed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat not seeking a third term.
He reported about $27,445 in expenditures incurred but not paid, including $10,972 to a national campaign consulting firm, Precision Campaigns, and $16,473 to Clark Hill, a Washington, D.C., law firm with a speciality in campaign finance. Its former clients include Tom Foley, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2010 and 2014.
Clark Hill also represented an independent expenditure group, Grow Connecticut, that supported Foley’s campaign in 2014.
Stemerman could not be reached Tuesday. Schaffer declined to comment on how much money Stemerman is willing to spend trying to become governor of a state struggling with a stagnant economy and chronic budget problems.
The record for self-funded candidates is poor in the U.S. and worse in Connecticut.
Self-funded candidates from Greenwich have won Democratic and Republican primaries for governor and U.S. Senate in Connecticut, each ultimately losing the general election. But 2018 offers Stemerman a race for an open seat with no dominant candidates in either party.
Foley, the Republican businessman who lost two close races to Malloy, was a self-funded candidate who spent about $12.8 million in 2010. Foley participated in the public financing program in 2014, limiting his spending for a primary and general election to about $8 million.
Linda McMahon, a Republican now serving in the administration of President Trump, spent $50 million on each of her two campaigns for the U.S. Senate, losing to Democrats Richard Blumenthal in 2010 and Chris Murphy in 2012.
Ned Lamont, a Democrat, spent $20 million in a 2006 race for U.S. Senate, much of it his own money. He won the primary, but lost the general election to Joseph I. Lieberman, who ran as an independent after losing the Democratic nomination. Lamont lost a gubernatorial primary to Malloy in 2010.
Stemerman has a bachelor’s degree from Yale and an MBA and law degree from Harvard. He opened his hedge fund in 2008. Bloomberg described it as the “the biggest start-up of 2008,” when he raised $2.3 billion.
Democrats also have a potential Greenwich candidate from the world of finance. Dita Bhargava, a former senior trader and portfolio manager, opened an exploratory committee last month. So far, she is not self funding: She reported raising $53,000 in her first few weeks as a potential candidate.
Republican Mike Handler, the chief financial officer of Stamford, reported raising $116,985 in his first two months as a candidate. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican who was sidelined by brain surgery for a non-cancerous growth in August, raised less than $34,000 for his exploratory committee.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutors, were the only Democrats to raise more than $100,000 in the quarter. Both are exploratory candidates. Mattei now has raised a total of $222,893.
Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, a Democrat, struggled. After being a exploratory candidate for half a year, he raised little more than $53,000 in his first quarter as a declared candidate and had less than $20,000 cash on hand. Republican Tim Herbst, the first selectman of Trumbull, failed to hit the $50,000-mark in the quarter.
Drew, Herbst and Republican Dave Walker are among the candidates who began with exploratory committees and then converted to declared candidates.
Not all funds raised by an exploratory committee can be applied to the $250,000 qualifying threshold for public financing, since an exploratory can accept contributions of up to $375 and the maximum allowed for public financing is $100. The accounting can be complicated.
Walker raised $76,081 in his exploratory phase. The $163,920 his candidate committee reported raising in the third quarter includes a $45,475 surplus rolled over from his exploratory, giving him a net of about $118,000 in new money for the quarter. His two committees raised a net of $194,526 that he says can be applied toward the $250,000 in qualifying contributions for public financing.
Drew raised and spent about $178,000 in his exploratory phase, leaving no surplus for his newer candidate committee. His two committees raised a net total of $231,000, but he says none of the $178,000 will be applied toward the $250,000 qualifying threshold.
Herbst raised $108,000 in his exploratory committee and transferred about $53,000 to his candidate committee. His two committees raised a net total of nearly $200,000, but it is unclear how much can be applied to qualify for public financing. Herbst says he believes most of the exploratory contributions can be applied to his public financing application.
Joe Visconti, a Republican who has been a candidate since April, is running in the red after raising just $270 in the quarter. He says he will begin serious fundraising this month. He initially reported a debt of $44, but filed an amendment report showing a cash balance of $21.69, offset by unpaid expenses of $114.87.
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