As a super PAC attacks Gov. Ned Lamont on television, the Democratic Governors Association registered its own PAC in Connecticut this week, a necessary first step if the DGA is to defend the Democratic incumbent.
The DGA declined Thursday to discuss its plans or budget for Stronger CT, a super PAC registered Wednesday with no mention of its affiliation. But it is chaired by Andrew Whalen, who oversees independent expenditures for the DGA.
The treasurer, Bernadette Hennessy, is the chief financial officer of Mission Control Inc., a Democratic consulting firm that specializes in direct mail. Past clients include Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Four years ago, the DGA played only a modest role in Connecticut, where there was no incumbent to defend and the Democratic nominee was Lamont, a wealthy self-funder with a $15 million budget and little need of outside support.
Now, Republican Bob Stefanowski has deposited $10 million into his own campaign account, and two independent-expenditure groups are assisting the GOP with digital and television ads opposing Lamont.
One of those groups, CT Truth PAC, is airing a commercial that blames high gas prices on Lamont and closes with an off-color tag line: “Tired of getting bleeped at the pump? Fire Ned Lamont.”
The ad suggests that the passage of a law legalizing recreational cannabis in 2021, which was supported by the public, was more of a priority than gas prices in 2022.
CT Truth has spent nearly $1.3 million since April 1, including nearly $400,000 paid last week for television time in the last week of June. Another PAC opposed to Lamont, Parents Against Stupid Stuff, has pledged spending at least $1 million, though its output so far has been modest.
The campaigns of Stefanowski and Lamont have been airing their own ads for months. Lamont’s put up a new one Monday underlining his support for a woman’s right to abortion.
State law prohibits direct contributions of more than $3,500 to a gubernatorial campaign and $10,000 to a state party in Connecticut, but there is no limit on contributions to independent groups known as super PACs.
The Democratic Governors Association, the Republican Governors Association, their affiliated PACs and other super PACS provide conduits around contribution limits to donors who can afford to give more.
In 2018, Reverge Anselmo, a donor who then lived in Greenwich, was able to contribute $2 million in support of Stefanowski’s first campaign by writing checks to super PACs.
This year, CT Truth is primarily funded by three businessmen. David Kelsey of Old Lyme and Thomas E. McInerney of Westport each gave $750,000; Raymond Debbane of Greenwich, an investor and chairman of Weight Watchers, gave $100,000.
The DGA and RGA played major roles in 2014, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his Republican opponent, Thomas Foley, each participated in the voluntary public financing program. In return for public funds, they pledged to abide by restrictions on spending.
A committee established by the DGA in Connecticut spent $6 million on Malloy’s behalf — $4 million raised by the DGA and $2 million by unions.
The RGA spent $5.5 million to help Foley.
Neither Lamont nor Stefanowski are participating in the public financing program, allowing them to spend as much of their personal funds as they wish.
CT Truth PAC was formed to back Stefanowski. It is advised by Chris LaCivita, who was a consultant to Stefanowski’s 2018 campaign.
Super PACs cannot coordinate advertising with the campaigns they are supporting, and shared vendors or consultants constitute a presumption of illegal coordination under state law. But LaCivita’s work for CT Truth PAC is well outside an 18-month cooling off period.