Public Financing for Elections: Does it Really Matter?

Posted on November 19, 2015

In 2005, the Connecticut General Assembly, urged on by an intense grassroots advocacy effort, passed the first comprehensive public financing system for state elections in the nation.  The kick off election cycle was 2008, and in that year and ever since, at least 74% of all candidates choose to participate in the system of public financing, called the Citizens’ Election Program.  So, has public financing really made a difference?  The answer is a resounding, YES!  So why are state Democrats proposing to kill the program?  That is completely unclear, but leadership has proposed cutting $11.7 million from the Citizens’ Election Fund, effectively wiping out Connecticut’s public financing program.

After the Citizens’ Election Program was passed, candidates who were not connected with the established party machines, or who were not individually wealthy, could run for office and – as long as they established a threshold level of support in their community – run a competitive race.   In the two election cycles before the Citizens’ Election Program was enacted, the number of primary challengers in races was a steady 6%. Immediately after candidates could access public funds to run for state office, that number jumped to 9% in 2008 and has stayed between 9 and 11% ever since.  At the same time, there has been a decrease in the number of unopposed candidates – from 23% in 2006 down to 19% in 2012.  Democracy works best when participation is increased! 

OK, so competition has increased – has that actually made a real difference in people’s lives?  Well, again – yes.  As part of this new campaign finance law, the entire way that candidates raise money to run for office has changed.  Lobbyists can no longer bundle donations, or donate to candidates at all during the legislative session. State Contractors and their family members can no longer contribute to state candidates at all. So races are funded by ordinary people giving $5 - $100 so that candidates can qualify for a state grant – enough to wage a competitive race.  This is particular has afforded the chance to get elected to state office to a unique group of people – young ones.   Earlier this year, a bipartisan young legislators caucus was formed by 20 legislators under 40 in order to address issues of particular concern to young people in Connecticut.  Most of these young legislators would not have had the wealth or connections to run for office before the Citizens’ Election Program.  Yesterday, a group of these young legislators collaborated on a letter to leadership asking that the Citizens’ Election Program be preserved without suspension or funds removed.

"As members of the Young Legislators Caucus, we are deeply concerned by the recommendation of suspending the historic Citizen's Election Program...for the 2016 election cycle,'' Rep. Sean Scanlon and Sen. Mae Flexer, co-chairs of the Young Legislators Caucus.  – Hartford Courant

Common Cause joins with these young legislators in saying “No!” to any cuts to the Citizens’ Election Program which has served our state so well in handing accountability from elected officials back to the voters and out of the hands of special interests.

Office: Common Cause Connecticut, Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Empowering Small Donors

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