Attacking the Citizens’ Election Program equals attacking democracy

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Connecticut Republicans are again demonstrating a total lack of interest in the integrity of our elections, from the top of the party all the way down. Voter suppression, foreign interference, and false voter fraud accusations dominate the national Republican Party’s outlook on democracy in our nation, and Connecticut Republicans mirror these assaults on our democracy with their own.

Attacking the Citizens’ Election Program is nothing short of attacking basic democratic values.

Republicans are yet again exploiting the fiscal crisis to build their own power at the expense of the state. Their attack on the Citizens’ Election Program, a program that makes up 0.0001 percent of the budget and is paid for by the sale of abandoned properties, has nothing to do with the state’s fiscal health. Republicans are disingenuous for claiming so. In fact, discarding our clean elections would be disastrous to the fiscal health of our state in the long term, yet alone our ethical health.

Since implementing the CEP, our elections have become more competitive, and primaries are now a more viable way to challenge incumbents. Candidates now come from a more diverse set of backgrounds, no longer needing to be among the wealthy and well-connected in order to compete. Candidates also spend far less time fundraising, and far more time talking and listening to their own voters and constituents. Meanwhile, races that used to be totally uncontested are now much more prone to real challengers. This is beneficial to our democracy.

Eliminating the CEP is a recipe for disastrous long-term losses, both fiscally and ethically. Corruption comes at a high cost. Cutting public financing of elections means reinstating the pay-to-play politics of the Rowland era. It means corporations and wealthy individuals offering major campaign contributions in exchange for expensive state contracts. It means tax breaks for campaign donors, subsidies for the largest corporations, and mass privatization of our public services.

Background: In 2005, the Citizens’ Election Program passed the Connecticut Legislature with bipartisan support. This was the state’s incredibly effective response to the pay-to-play political scandal of former Gov. John Rowland. Since then, 89 percent of state legislators and 100 percent of state officers have run their campaigns on CEP funding.

In 2000 and 2004, before the CEP, at least one of the major parties failed to put forth a candidate in 40 percent of districts. By 2010, that number was down to 29 percent.

As of 2015, 84 percent of Americans believed that money played too large a role in politics.

The biggest challenge to rectifying this common concern that transcends the political spectrum is that clean election reform depends on the very legislators who get elected on bad campaign finance systems to change their own rules. Connecticut made history, being the first state whose incumbent lawmakers voted to get rid of massive private contributions in favor of public financing and small-donor fundraising.

Lindsay Farrell is State Director of the Connecticut Working Families party.

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