Joseph F. Brennan, president and CEO if the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. (file) Claude Albert /
Joe Brennan of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. (file) Claude Albert /

Connecticut’s largest business trade group is stepping away from the aggressive role it played two years ago in the fight for control of the General Assembly: Instead of trying to influence legislative elections with independent expenditures this fall, it will spend $600,000 on advertising to shape a pro-business agenda in January.

The decision by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association sidelines one of the Republican Party’s two biggest-spending allies from two years ago, when the CBIA spent $553,342 on targeted races and the GOP made net gains of three seats in the Senate and eight in the House.

CBIA unveiled the scope of its new issues campaign Monday without mentioning the change of course it represents from 2016, when its first experience with independent expenditures to influence legislative elections helped business groups outspend unions by a 2-1 margin.

“We’re doing a different thing this time around. We’re not doing independent expenditures,”Joe Brennan, the president of CBIA, told CT Mirror in an interview. “We feel we have to cut through some of the noise at the federal level and state.”

The group’s statewide advertising campaign, Fix Connecticut, will use  digital, broadcast, and print advertising to keep the General Assembly focused on taxes, jobs and the economy during the campaign and into 2019, Brennan said.

“There are a lot of different PACs, efforts out there supporting individual candidates. We know that’s going to happen anyway. We just want to focus on what is important. We’re going to put our resources behind that,” he said. “It’s not designed around the election. It’s designed around the issues.”

The GOP’s legislative candidates will not be without the assistance of super PACs.

A national group that focuses on down-ballot races, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has contributed $400,000 this year to Change Connecticut, a super PAC that will try to influence legislative elections. It has yet to identify its targeted races.

The RSLC’s board of directors includes former Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

In 2016, RSLC was among the donors to Grow Connecticut, which also focused on legislative races. Its spending was overseen by Liz Kurantowicz, a Republican operative now directly advising the House Republican leadership PACs.

Republicans have made steady gains in the legislature since Barack Obama carried the state in a landslide in 2008, helping Democrats to win super majorities of 114-37 in the House and 24-12 in the Senate.  In 2016, the GOP split the Senate, 18-18, and won 72 House seats, just four short of a majority. (They lost one seat in a special election and need a net gain of five this year to control the House.)

Outside groups funded by business, unions and other interest groups spent at least $1.5 million on state legislative races in 2016, with a focus on a half-dozen Senate races.

Three of the four Republicans targeted for support by CBIA won, with Len Suzio of Meriden and George Logan of Ansonia unseating Democrats, and Heather Somers winning an open seat that had long been held by a Democrat. Grow Connecticut also supported Logan and Somers.

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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