Just last week, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association -— a state coalition representing almost 10,000 member businesses — spent almost $150,000 producing advertisements in support of mainly Republican candidates for the upcoming state Senate and House of Representative elections. According to documents filed to the State Elections Enforcement Commission dated as recently as Sept. 16., these are not the only financial investments this Connecticut-based private organization has made in the run-up to the November election.
In roughly two months, Connecticut residents will not only be voting to determine their next president but also for candidates who will fill a total of 187 seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives. Prior to the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, organizations such as trade or business associations were only permitted to give financial support to political campaigns through political action committees, or PACs. But as a result of the Supreme Court ruling on the Citizens United suit, entities, individuals, organizations and almost any kind of group or person can spend money independently of candidates in unlimited amounts, according to Joshua Foley, staff attorney at the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Crucially, this money is spent without the consent, coordination or consultation of the candidate being supported. Here in Connecticut, the CBIA has independently expended at least $415,000 since Aug. 3 directly from its own coffer to promote candidates in 15 races to the state capitol.
According to president and chief executive officer of CBIA Joe Brennan, the organization has been involved with state political races for several decades in the form of endorsements and financial support. But starting from this election cycle, Brennan said that CBIA is willing to “test the waters” by making independent expenditures on positive advertisements for certain candidates and to use this experience to prepare for the 2018 gubernatorial election.
Brennan said CBIA was prompted to take action by financing ads during campaign season due to the “lagging” state economy. Connecticut still sees a sizeable budget deficit despite having two of the largest tax hikes in state history, a cycle of instability and unpredictability that Brennan partly attributed to the state legislators. As a result, Brennan said, the CBIA decided to take political change into their own hands by supporting candidates they believe will manage the economy better.
“We just feel strongly that the status quo is not working well enough and we need to make some changes,” Brennan said.
According to the SEEC independent expenditure disclosure forms that CBIA submitted, the organization has identified 19 candidates from 15 races across the state — four state Senate seats and 11 state House of Representatives seats — as targets for its support. In the four contested state Senate races, CBIA has spent money on web presence and Internet advertising for all eight Democratic and Republicans candidates.
Brennan said that even though the majority of people CBIA supports either through endorsements or independent expenditures are Republican, the organization’s choice is nonpartisan and reflects only each candidate’s positions on substantive matters relating to business owners.
“We don’t look necessarily at if there is an ‘R’, or a ‘D’ after somebody’s name. But we do look at the votes after their names,” Brennan added. “I am not going to apologize for the fact there is more in one party than the other because we are driven by people’s votes. And if they choose not to vote with us, we may look at the other alternatives when we are looking to support candidates.”
Marjorie Bonadies, a Hamden-local and the Republican candidate for District 88 of the state House of Representatives, also identified Hartford’s policy of increasing taxes to fill the budget deficit as cause for stalled business and economic growth. She said Connecticut needs to prioritize creating new and employed taxpayers instead of new taxes.
Even though Bonadies is not endorsed by CBIA, she said the organization is trying to raise awareness among Connecticut residents to “make educated decisions” about which candidate is on the right track to revive the state economy.
“Whether they be a Republican or Democrat doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t matter,” Bonadies said. “If a change in attitude towards business means electing new people to the general assembly then I am in full support of that.”
The Democratic Party holds a three-prong advantage heading into the state general election — it holds majority in both the state Senate and the state House as well as the current governorship. However, both Brennan and Bonadies are optimistic about the results. Brennan said even though “there is a certain power of incumbency,” he felt the time has demanded change to take place in the state legislation.
Doug Losty will challenge 15-year Democratic incumbent Toni Walker for his position on the state House of Representatives in the district of New Haven.
Correction, Sept. 23: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the total expenditures incurred by the CBIA. In fact, it was $415,000.