If you live in Connecticut, chances are you have seen ads supporting or denigrating gubernatorial candidates while scrolling through your Twitter feed or during TV commercials.
As election day approaches, the candidates in this year’s race for the Connecticut governorship have ramped up advertising efforts in order to win voters. Though all this advertising costs money, neither major-party candidate has opted to use public funds for his campaign. Democratic nominee and Greenwich cable television entrepreneur Ned Lamont SOM ’80 has already poured around $8 million of his personal fortune into his campaign while Republican nominee and former UPS and General Electric business executive Bob Stefanowski has recently transitioned from a self-funded to a donor-based strategy — raising around $1.5 million primarily from donors in September.
Journal Inquirer political columnist Chris Powell is unsurprised by these trends, given the current Connecticut political landscape.
“On the Democratic side, nobody of any standing in the party wanted the nomination, so it defaulted to the rich guy who could pay for his own campaign,” Powell said. “On the Republican side, we have had years of self-funders,” he said.
Earlier in the year, Stefanowski contributed around $2.3 million of his own money to his primary campaign, in which he won a tight five-way race with just 29 percent of the vote. After announcing his candidacy in September 2017, Stefanowski quickly began to advertise primarily with personal funds — while candidates who applied for state public funding were still waiting to receive their money.
In August interviews with the News following Stefanowski’s primary win, Sacred Heart University professor and frequent gubernatorial debate panelist Gary Rose and Powell both agreed that his self-funded strategy played a role in his victory.
“Another contributing factor to Stefanowski’s win was that he got a head start in terms of advertising,” Rose said in August. “He was on long before the other [Republican] candidates starting running their ads.”
Now, however, Stefanowski appears to be shifting his fundraising efforts towards relying on private donations. According to a report by his campaign released Thursday, he has raised $2 million since the Aug. 14 primary — of which only $250,000 came from self-contributions. Stefanowski has organized a number of private fundraising events since the primary, including a private fundraiser hosted by GOP strategist and political commentator Noelle Nikpour in a $13,000-a-month apartment overlooking Central Park — according an Oct. 4 story by the Hartford Courant.
In the beginning of October, Stefanowski’s campaign reported the equivalent of $746,000 of cash on hand.
On the Democratic side, Lamont’s campaign has solicited few outside donations. According to a State Elections Commission report, of the $4.29 million in fundraising receipts raised through Aug. 31, $3.9 million has been provided by Lamont. Since the summer, Lamont has put additional funds into his campaign — the exact numbers of which have yet to be made public.
The same trend has held true for Lamont’s past political campaigns. According to public finance records, while Lamont contributed more than $9 million of his own money to a 2010 gubernatorial campaign, he ultimately lost the Democratic primary to current Gov. Dannel Malloy.
In his 2006 U.S. Senate run, Lamont contributed around $17 million to his own campaign. Lamont defeated then-Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary by less than 4 percentage points. But the Democratic nominee lost in the general election to the incumbent senator when Lieberman ran as an independent.
For the first time in the Citizen’s Election Fund program’s almost 13-year history, neither major party gubernatorial candidate is using public financing from the fund for their campaign. Malloy used public financing to fund both of his successful gubernatorial campaigns — in 2010 and 2014.
In order to qualify for public funding, a gubernatorial candidate must amass $250,000 of small donations — ranging from $5 to $100. The program also requires gubernatorial candidates to contribute no more than $20,000 of personal funds to their campaign. Qualifying candidates receive $1.25 million for primary campaigns and $6 million for a competitive general election campaign where both major parties have put forth candidates.
“Lamont didn’t want to go into public financing because it limits how much you can spend,” Powell said. “If you have got hundreds of millions of dollars, you want to spend as much as you think you need to spend.”
Powell noted that there have been many examples of past self-funding candidates. 2012 Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon put nearly $49 million of her own money into her campaign while 2010 and 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley donated nearly $11 million to his own campaign in 2010.
A detailed report about fundraising and spending for all gubernatorial candidates up until Sept. 30 will be released by the state election committee no later than Oct. 10 — the deadline the candidate committees have to fill out their financial disclosure statements.
Conor Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org