Connecticut may be in the throes of a budget crisis, but that likely will not prevent exorbitant spending by candidates in the 2018 election cycle.
As election day draws ever closer, many contested races, including those for the governorship and the 5th congressional district, are expected to be costly. Through national donations, local contributions and public financing, numerous candidates have amassed or are expected to amass massive campaign war chests.
“I’m thinking it probably is going to be the most expensive [election cycle] in Connecticut history, especially with all the candidates and the amount they are already raising,” said Gary Rose, professor of government and politics at Sacred Heart University and a moderator at Wednesday’s Republican gubernatorial debate.
Rose pointed to the gubernatorial race specifically as a potentially expensive election, due to the competitive nature of the race. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes U.S. elections, has called the contest a “toss-up.”
Rose and Colin McEnroe ’76, a local radio host and political analyst, both think the national focus on Connecticut races will draw party money. The Democratic National Committee has already committed $50,000 to the Connecticut Democratic Party for the 2018 election through a competitive grant. Though that might not seem like much compared to the $424,371 the state party has on hand, Nick Balletto, the party’s chairman, told the CT Mirror in early March that the money is useful for staffing the party and speaks to its unity.
The Republican Governors Association announced last Monday it has already committed to spending $1.7 million in television advertising in the six weeks leading up to the gubernatorial general elections.
Another potential cause of increased spending is the number of candidates running, Rose said. At least 18 candidates are expected to attend an April 21 gubernatorial forum in Westport.
Candidates for the governorship will likely seek local donations, as well, if they hope to receive public financing. The state grants primary candidates $1.3 million and general election candidates $6.5 million to spend. To be eligible for those funds, a gubernatorial hopeful must raise $250,000 worth of small donations, ranging from $5 to $100 each.
Many candidates this cycle have surpassed the $250,000 requirement, but some have elected to opt out of the public financing system. McEnroe mentioned Democratic hopeful Ned Lamont and Republican businessmen Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman as examples of candidates who will mostly self-finance their gubernatorial campaigns.
Both Rose and McEnroe think the public financing system, the Citizens’ Election Program, helps explain the broad field in this year’s race, since candidates hard-pressed for funds can still end up with money to spend.
“$250,000 is much more achievable than $6 million,” McEnroe said.
The announcement by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85, D-Conn., that she will not seek re-election in Connecticut’s 5th district has created a power vacuum. Her decision not to run came after revelations that she had not responded to sexual harassment allegations against her former chief of staff.
Esty, who had already amassed nearly $1.5 million for her re-election bid, will have to return much of the money to her donors, although she can donate what is left to state and party organizations.
With the race now wide open, Rose expects the cash to start flowing.
“Anytime you have a seat and multiple candidates like this, you are going to see enormous amounts of spending,” he said. “A toss-up race like this is going to attract outside money, and you’re going to see it on both sides.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy used public financing for his campaigns in both 2010 and 2014.
Conor Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org