Bring Back Clean Elections

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Witkos, Simanski wants to bring back clean elections

Connecticut can improve its so-called clean elections laws, according to Granby area state legislators Senator Kevin Witkos (R-8) and Representative Bill Simanski (R-62). Republicans recently called for a series of reforms to restore transparency and to level the playing field for those seeking state elected office. Since the original clean elections law was enacted in 2005, the program has suffered from numerous erosions. Republican legislators hope to restore the program, close loopholes and seek new reforms to make the program more effective. 
“When the state’s groundbreaking public campaign finance laws were first passed, citizens were promised that in exchange for public funds going to campaigns, we could count on a clean election system. That promise has fizzled. Over the years the majority party has chipped away at the laws, allowing more money into campaigns and more room for abuse of the system. It’s time to put our foot down and work together to clean up the system, restore accountability and promote transparency,” said Sen. Witkos, Senate minority leader pro tempore.

“It is so unfortunate that the very laws that were enacted to create a more transparent and honest public campaign finance system have allowed for the dishonest acts of sidestepping and using of loopholes by the majority party as we saw in this last election cycle,” said Rep. Simanski, assistant House Republican leader. “I support reforms to these laws that will ensure the appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and safeguard the spirit and integrity of clean elections.”

The campaign finance system relies on the use of public funds distributed to candidates after they meet certain fundraising criteria and thresholds. The legislators pointed to several legislative rollbacks of the law that created the current crisis, including the increase of allowed donations to state political parties coupled with the unlimited expansion of how much those parties could spend on publicly financed candidates. They also noted the 2010 special session of the legislature to increase state grant funds for then-gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy to assure he would have enough money to compete with a self-funding opponent.  
In the 2014 elections, Connecticut spent $33 million— an amount the legislators say is too much. 
In response, Witkos and Simanski, along with other Republican legislators, are proposing a package of legislative reforms to election laws including the following changes.

·    Cap organizational expenditures by state parties. 
Currently, political parties can make unlimited organizational expenditures on behalf of participating candidates. Republicans are proposing the following limits: 
candidate for governor – $250,000; candidate for constitutional officer – $75,000; candidate for state Senate – $10,000; candidate for House of Representatives – $3,500.

·    Reduce individual donor limits to state parties from $10,000 to $5,000. 
In 2013, individual donor limits to state parties increased along with the amount state parties could make in organizational expenditures to a campaign. Republicans are proposing to roll back donation limits to previous levels. 

·  Eliminate grants to unopposed candidates. 
Currently, candidates for state office (constitutional officers, senators and representatives) are eligible for Citizens’ Election Program (CEP) grants even if they are unopposed. The amount of their grant equals 30 percent of a full-grant. Republicans are proposing to eliminate these grants. 

·    Stop state contractors from donating to a federal account to fund a state race. 
The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) needs to be able to enforce Connecticut’s current laws that prevent contractors from donating to state races. Republicans are proposing legislation to help SEEC enforce this law. 

·    Reduce all Citizens’ Election Program grants by 25 percent. 
By reducing CEP funds across the board, the state can save taxpayers approximately $7 million in gubernatorial election years and $2.4 million in presidential election years. 

Office                           Current Grant Amounts       Proposed Grant Amounts  (25% reduction)
governor                       $6,500,400/                       $812,550

 officer                         $4,875,300                        $609,412
State Senator                 $94,690                            $71,017
State Representative     $27,850                            $20,887

This session of the Connecticut General Assembly adjourns at midnight, Wednesday, June 3.