Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced this week that she will refuse contributions to her re-election campaign that come from lobbyists, their spouses or state contractors — a move her staff hopes will give her an edge over her Democratic opponents.
Rell’s democratic challengers, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., said they will continue to accept money from contractors and lobbyists. Political analysts said it would likely be difficult for both candidates to raise sufficient funds without such contributions, which have already proved lucrative, while Rell, as an incumbent governor with a nearly 80 percent approval rating, will have an easier time raising the necessary funds.
“[Rell] is in favor of public financing of campaigns and wants that to start basically immediately,” said Rell spokesman Judd Everhart.
DeStefano and Malloy have in the past attempted to discredit Rell by emphasizing her tenure as lieutenant governor under former Gov. John G. Rowland, who is now serving a 366-day sentence for corruption.
Senate Democratic spokesman Patrick Scully said he thinks Rell’s recent pledge was largely a political move motivated in part by her ability to bring in money more easily than DeStefano or Malloy can.
“It’s a political move — she’s got 80 percent approval ratings, she can do one direct mail piece and bring in a million dollars,” Scully said. “If she was mayor of Danbury or something then she’d probably be singing a different tune.”
Malloy, who has so far raised $1.7 million in donations, also said he thinks Rell’s announcement is disingenuous, though he said he would support a program of publicly financed elections, even for next November’s gubernatorial elections.
“We live by the law, that is, we accept campaign donations from individuals who under the law are entitled to donate to campaigns,” he said. “If the law changes — and I hope it does — we will abide by the new law.”
DeStefano, though a “strong supporter” of publicly financed elections, will also continue to follow the campaign finance laws that now exist, campaign manager Shonu Gandhi ’03 said. DeStefano has come under some criticism for accepting money from those doing business with the City of New Haven; 10 percent of those individuals who donated the legal maximum of $2,500 are architects or construction company executives whose firms are working on city contracts.
“We don’t take her proposal seriously at all,” Gandhi said. “We believe that in order to reform the system, we need public financing, and that is not what Rell has pledged.”
Malloy said he remains skeptical of Rell’s announcement because she is an incumbent and because she will continue to accept money from employees of firms with state contracts, which, he said, still leaves open the door for contributions from those with state contracts.
“I do think that campaign finance reform, which I am totally supportive of, tends to be a political football,” Malloy said. “Apparently, what she’s not going to do is take money from principles of firms who have contracts with the state, which means whole employee groups can contribute. [Her announcement] is a little different than what it appears to be on one level.”
Rell’s campaign Web site, through which contributors can make online donations, tells prospective donors that “If you have any direct managerial responsibility for soliciting, developing, executing, or signing a state contract on behalf of a corporation — thank you, but we are unable to accept your contribution to the Jodi Rell ’06 Committee.”
As governor, Rell has also been headlining fundraisers for the Republican Party, which still raises money from lobbyists and contractors and then uses that money to support Rell’s campaign, Gandhi said.
“Governor Rell is trying to have it both ways,” Gandhi said. “She’s the leader of the Republican Party, and the Republican Party continues to have fundraisers taking money from all of these sources.”
Rell has some distinct advantages over her opponents when it comes to fundraising that allow her to reject lobbyist and contractor donations, said Andy Sauer, executive director of Common Cause, a campaign finance reform advocacy group. He said she has the name recognition of an incumbent governor, which will help her solicit money, as well as the advantage that there are more wealthy Republicans in the state than Democrats.
“She’s a candidate for governor in the richest state in the country … all she has to do is go from Republican Town Committee to Republican Town Committee and I guarantee you she’ll be able to raise a million dollars,” Sauer said. “The average Republican finds her to be so refreshing in the wake of the worst scandal in [Connecticut] history, she’s not going to have any problem raising money.”
A Democrat would have difficulty employing a similar strategy, Sauer said.
Rell’s announcement coincides with an effort in the State Legislature to pass a bill establishing a system of publicly funded elections for statewide office. The bill would turn into law many of the changes Rell has pledged to implement in her campaign, but Senate Democrats disagree with Rell as to whether the reforms should be implemented for this gubernatorial election or for the following one.
Under a system of publicly financed elections, which Maine and Arizona have already implemented, prospective candidates raise a
threshold amount of money from private individuals to demonstrate their viability as candidates and then receive public grants to fund the rest of their campaigning, Sauer said. As Connecticut does not yet have a system of public campaign financing, Rell will have to solicit private citizens to compensate for the loss of lobbyist and contractor donations.
Scully said the Democrats generally agree with the governor about the direction of the bill, but he said they want to make contributions from lobbyists and contractors illegal at the same time that public money is made available for candidates.
“The governor wants to eliminate traditional funding sources … right away, but public financing can’t possibly kick in for another year,” he said. “That leaves our people with no way to make money.”
While Rell understands the difficulty of changing fundraising rules in the middle of a campaign, Everhart said, the governor remains committed to reforming the campaign finance system.
Scully said state senators will convene on Tuesday for special session in Hartford to discuss the campaign finance reform bill. A similar session over the summer ended with an incomplete version of the bill, but Scully said senators have had time since to combine what had been competing versions of the proposal and will now be able to determine an appropriate implementation date for the bill.