Both Ned Lamont SOM ’80, Democratic candidate for governor, and Bob Stefanowski, his Republican opponent, have been funding their own campaigns in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Since 2008, candidates for statewide office, as well as for the Connecticut General Assembly, have had access to the Citizen’s Election Program — which provides public funding for campaigns. Managed by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the program was created in 2005 to limit the influence of special interest groups. But for the first time since its implementation, the candidates from both major political parties are choosing to forgo the Citizen’s Election Program.
Lamont and Stefanowski are both primarily self-financing their campaigns.
Lacey Rose, Lamont’s campaign spokeswoman, praised the CEP as the “national standard” that needs to be “protected and strengthened” in an email to the News. But she did not reply to a later question about Lamont’s decision to not opt into the publicly funded program.
The Stefanowski campaign did not return phone calls requesting comment on its decision to use private rather than public funds.
In 2010 when Gov. Dannel Malloy was running against Thomas Foley, Malloy chose to campaign using Citizen’s Election Program funds, whereas Foley decided to fund his own campaign. Four years later, when Malloy ran for re-election against Foley, they both decided to tap into the public program.
According to Josh Foley, the staff attorney at the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Citizen’s Election Program is too new a program for it to be fair to label Lamont and Stefanowski’s financial decisions as unusual.
“There aren’t a lot of conclusions you can draw from [the past elections] … it just happens that the two highest profiles aren’t using it,” Foley said. “People who are independently wealthy are not using it.”
Some candidates stay away from using the Citizen’s Election Program because it caps the amount that can be spent during the campaign, Foley said. Under the program, there is a $1.25 million limit during the primary, and a $6.5 million limit for the remainder of the campaign if the candidate wins the primary.
“If you’re a governor candidate, it might be in your best interest to not constrain yourself to the cap,” Foley said.
Lamont reported that his household had a net worth of between $90 million and $332 million during a 2006 U.S. Senate race that he lost. Stefanowski has not had to report his net worth, but has donated $2.3 million to his own campaign, according to most recent filings.
The program is funded by the Citizen’s Election Fund, which generates nearly all of its revenue from the state’s abandoned property fund. Any estate that was not left to anyone in a will, as well as unclaimed money from bank accounts and stocks, contribute in total of roughly $11 million dollars a year that are funneled into the Citizen’s Election Program. According to Foley, the State Elections Enforcement Commission allocates one-fourth of the money to General Assembly races and about three-fourths off the money to statewide races. The unused money rolls over to the next election cycle.
To qualify for the public funding, candidates must demonstrate that they have substantial support from the public. This is done by raising money through donations from individuals residing in municipalities within a candidate’s district. Depending on which position a candidate run for, the amount he or she have to raise to qualify for public funding varies.
Although the two leading candidates may not be taking advantage of the public funds, the program is still growing.
“The sheer volume of statewide grant applications submitted this year — and all the small-dollar contributions from individuals they represent — is very encouraging from a [Citizen’s Election Program] standpoint,” Michael Brandi, executive director and general counsel of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said in an email.
The gubernatorial race will take place on Nov. 6.
Grace Kang | email@example.com