The state of Connecticut poured $26.1 million of taxpayer dollars into the campaigns of candidates for governor, state legislator, and other statewide offices in 2010, according to the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. The total, given through the state’s Citizens Election Program (CEP), accounted for nearly half of all money spent by candidates in Connecticut running for state office.
The study, “Government’s Thumb on the Election Scale,” by Yankee Institute policy director Heath Fahle, also found incumbents were the principal recipients and beneficiaries of taxpayer funds through the CEP. The $26.1 million given to political candidates came while Connecticut wrestled with a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
“The Citizens Election Program has many flaws, but perhaps the biggest is that it harms the group of candidates that it was supposed to help the most—challengers—while benefitting incumbents,” Fahle said.
The Democratic majority in Connecticut’s legislature was accused of abusing the CEP in 2010. In response to a federal court’s decision striking down the program’s “matching funds” provision that would give extra funds to participating candidates who were outspent by opponents or independent groups, lawmakers voted to give the participating candidate for governor an additional $3 million. The decision benefitted only Dannel P. Malloy, the Democratic candidate for governor who faced a self-funded Republican who was not participating in the CEP.
Malloy won the race and is currently Connecticut’s governor.
“The 2010 experience highlighted the transparently partisan nature of public financing,” said Fahle. “After the courts struck down matching grants, and subsequent to learning that the publicly funded Democrat would be running against a privately financed Republican, the Democratic-dominated General Assembly approved a bill awarding an additional $3 million to now-Governor Malloy.”
One of Three
Connecticut is one of only three states offering full funding for state legislative and statewide candidates. The two other states offering similar programs are Arizona and Maine, both of which began theirs during the 2000 election cycle.
Each state’s program is different, but generally candidates are limited to small-dollar contributions—no more than $100 in Connecticut. State senate candidates in Connecticut have to bring in $15,000 from at least 300 residents of their district, while candidates for governor are required to collect $250,000, at least $225,000 of which must come from state residents.
Upon raising the necessary funds, the state provides candidates with a lump sum to use for their campaigns, and candidates are not allowed to raise or spend more money. In 2010, state senate candidates typically received $88,400 and state house candidates received about $26,000. Dannel Malloy, the successful Democratic candidate for governor, received $8.5 million in taxpayer dollars.
Benefits to Incumbents
Critics of giving taxpayer dollars to political candidates argue such programs usually fail to achieve their goals and are often used to advance partisan interests. A 2009 study by Fahle, “Slanting the Playing Field: Connecticut’s Flawed Publicly-Funded Campaign System,” found the program benefitted incumbents more than challengers. Fahle also concluded the program had failed to achieve four of seven stated goals, while two of the remaining three were outside the scope of the study and it could not be determined if the final goal had been achieved.
A 2008 report to the New Jersey state legislature by the Center for Competitive Politics examined that state’s 2007 pilot project covering three state senate and six state assembly races and concluded programs that give taxpayer dollars to political candidates are not a successful at combating corruption, increasing competition, or otherwise improving the political process.
Advocates of giving taxpayer dollars to political candidates still defend the programs, and even urge that the idea be adopted for Congressional races.
Public Campaign, an organization supporting tax-funded political campaigns, claims the mandate would give elected officials “more time to spend with constituents, talking about issues that matter to them.” They also tout the belief politicians elected with taxpayer dollars “can consider legislation on the merits, without worrying about whether they are pleasing well heeled donors and lobbyists.”
Future in Doubt
The 2010 election cycle was only Connecticut’s second with taxpayer dollars given directly to political candidates, and it is unclear whether these types of programs will continue in the face of mounting budget strains and little evidence of success. Arizona voters will go to the polls next year to vote on whether to repeal that state’s program..Voters in Portland, Oregon last year voted to end their system of government-subsidized political campaigns.
“Taxpayer-subsidized campaigns put the government’s thumb on the election scales and forces the public to financially support candidates they otherwise would not,” Fahle concludes in his report. “CEP should be ended to allow campaign activity to be financed with private, voluntary contributions.”
Sean Parnell ([email protected]) is a Heartland Institute policy adviser who writes from Alexandria, Va.
“Government’s Thumb on the Election Scale,” Heath Fahle, the Yankee Institute: http://www.yankeeinstitute.org/2011/10/governments-thumb-on-the-election-scales/