Devlin: Fixing the campaign system

State Rep. Laura Devlin

State Rep. Laura Devlin

One of the three committees I serve is the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) committee, which is tasked with writing the election law for Connecticut — including how election campaigns are financed.

On March 27, the GAE committee is having a public hearing on a campaign finance bill, SB-1126, An Act Concerning Revisions to Campaign Finance Laws but the proposal lacks teeth and many of the real reforms we need are not in the bill.

In 2005, the state voted to implement the Citizens Election Program (CEP), also known as the Clean Election Program, which came with the promise of eliminating corruption and removing political favoritism from our state elections.

The CEP is used by any candidate for Governor, other Constitutional offices, as well as State Senate and State Representative who wishes to run for state office and does not intend to fund their own campaign.

To qualify for CEP funding, each state office has different rules and monetary requirements that specify the number and amount of contributions that a candidate must collect. For example, a candidate for State Representative must collect at least 150 personal (not business) contributions from within the district that can range from $5 – $100 per person. In addition, the candidate must achieve total contributions in the amount of $5000.

Once both thresholds of number of contributions and amount of money are reached, the campaign applies to the state and if approved, receives a grant of approximately $28,000.

The CEP system is a noble goal and came in reaction to the numerous scandals that involved state and municipal elected officials from both parties. Unfortunately, today – almost ten years later, the program is broken with numerous loopholes. We saw this in 2014. Outside campaign spending during the 2014 campaign for Governor along with a State Senate election proved that this system – one we call and expect to be clean – is actually rift with dishonesty and goes against the intent of the good government law.

If the CEP program is to work we need to fix it. I believe it is irresponsible to allow the program to exist with the current loopholes permitted. The Connecticut Senate and House Republicans proposed numerous legislative reforms to the elections laws that I fully support.

They are:

• Cap organizational expenditures by state parties – currently political parties can make unlimited organizational expenditures on behalf of a candidate.

• Reduce individual donor limits to state parties from $10,000 to $5,000

• Stop state contractor funds from being used in state races.

• Eliminate grants to unopposed candidates – this way taxpayer dollars are not wasted on the needless promotion of a political figure.

• Reduce all CEP grants for all state offices by 25%

The last bullet sends an important message: The legislature asks government to do more with less, so why can’t that include campaigns as well? This would save taxpayers approximately $7 million during gubernatorial years.

There is a popular saying in our everyday culture: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix.” Well, the Citizens Election Program is without a doubt broke and needs to be fixed. Now is the time to act.

Please also visit repdevlin.com for news and commentary on the latest happenings in Fairfield and Trumbull and at the State Capitol and sign up for my e-newsletter so you can get updates and alerts emailed directly to your inbox. Also feel free to contact my legislative office by phone 800-841-1423 or email [email protected]

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