Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, flanked by Democrats, speaks about spending by Change Connecticut PAC during a press conference on Wednesday. Clarice Silber /
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, flanked by Democrats, speaks about spending by Change Connecticut PAC during a press conference on Wednesday. Clarice Silber /

Connecticut Senate Democrats on Wednesday criticized spending by a national Republican- funded Super PAC focused on influencing specific state senate races ahead of the midterm election.

Change Connecticut PAC, which is funded by the Washington D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), has spent money opposing state senate races involving Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, and Democratic candidates Norm Needleman and James Maroney.

The PAC has reported contributions by RSLC of $800,000 and its treasurer, William Phillips, of $500. It has spent money on ads, mailers, polling, and strategy consulting.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said he believes the spending by Change Connecticut undermines the state’s public financing system and the principles of good government.

“Outside spenders know because of our budget under public financing exactly how much they will be increasing the budget of a publically funded campaign by spending outside money,” Looney said.

Looney said the PAC has spent more than $64,000 opposing Lesser, roughly $55,300 opposing Cassano, nearly $62,000 opposing Needleman, and $53,694 opposing Maroney.

The RSLC is a 527 group comprising of major corporate and conservative donors like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart. In June, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ family contributed $250,000 to the national group.

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

“The public deserves to know who raised their taxes to unreasonable, backbreaking levels,” Change Connecticut spokesman William O’Reilly said in an emailed statement. “These legislators clearly don’t want the truth known. If they were proud of their tax votes, they wouldn’t be protesting. That’s the bottom line.”

O’Reilly said Phillips is leading strategy for the PAC.

In August, Connecticut House Democrats filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission against Change Connecticut for allegedly violating reporting requirements while targeting Democratic legislators. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the PAC focused on gathering information about him and other state representatives.

State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said Change Connecticut and other super PACs don’t trust a level playing field where voters and working families decide who wins elections.

“They want to tilt the playing field and keep their special interests getting additional resources and additional seats,” Bye said.

Cassano said he has been the target of hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending in his last four elections.

“Let me make it very, very simple and very, very clear—people from the rest of the country shouldn’t be affecting what’s going on in my senate district. My district is not for sale,” Cassano said.

Clarice Silber was a General Assignment Reporter at CT Mirror. She formerly worked for The Associated Press in Phoenix as a legislative and general assignment reporter. In 2016, she conducted extensive interviews and research in Portuguese and Spanish for the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at McClatchy, which was the only U.S. newspaper to gain initial access to the Panama Papers. She is a Rio de Janeiro native and graduated from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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