The Citizens Election Program is at risk again

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The people of Connecticut have spoken. We want our elections to be focused on the people, preferably on the constituents the candidates seek to represent. That’s why we passed the Citizens’ Election Program, shifting power away from lobbyists and the few politicians who care more about cash that constituents. We put that power in the hands
of the people, where it belongs. Small dollar donors and voters have spoken — the Citizens’ Election Program is one of the most popular initiatives over its 12-year run so far. Candidates in both parties have spoken, with participation rates consistently above 75 percent.

All of us continue to speak up every time legislative leaders pretend their budget shortfall can be fixed by cutting the Citizens’ Election Program which represents 58 one-thousandths of the state budget.

But somehow, the chatter at the pre and post -holiday parties in Hartford these past weeks surfaced yet another attack by legislators who want to shutter the Citizens’ Election Program. It will be the second attack on CEP this session, if rumors prove true.

Earlier in the session the General Assembly attempted to shut down the program, and succeeded in weakening enforcement and making it harder for challengers to use CEP, all in the name of “budget discipline.” If allowed to stand, the changes they made then and are trying to make now will cost Connecticut taxpayers far more in the long run than
the pittance they’ll save in the short term.

Word is that a number of our legislators want to slice funding for the CEP, and/or the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), by 25 percent. The cuts would not make a dent in the state’s $208 million budget shortfall, but could be devastating to programs that in the past decade have made our elections cleaner and more competitive and our lawmakers more connected to the people they represent.

Anyone who wants Connecticut to continue to lead the nation toward cleaner, truly fair elections, and not slip backwards toward corruption of, by, and for special interests instead of government of, by and for the people must speak up now. Action could come as early as this week.

CEP is a voluntary program that provides grants to candidates who agree to run on a base of small dollar donations from individuals and who don’t take money from large special interest donors. It is structured to encourage the candidacies of people who otherwise would lack the resources or the connections needed to run a winning campaign and to motivate candidates to direct their attention to small dollar donors rather than big money interests.

The program has been a resounding success. It is used by most legislative candidates and incumbents – Democrats and Republicans alike – and has become a model for similar programs across the country. It grew out of the scandals that sent former Gov. John Rowland to prison for rigging bids and accepting favors in 2005 and earned the state an unwanted nickname: Corrupticut.

When some of the CEP’s critics tried to zero the program out of the budget last year, officials calculated the potential savings at 58 one-thousandths of 1 percent of the state budget. A 25 percent CEP cut obviously would be even more miniscule in the context of a $41 billion-plus state budget; those targeting the election agencies are clearly more
interested in elevating the power of big money political donors than in fixing the state’s books.

Rather than cutting CEP or the SEEC, the agency that does the critical enforcement work and monitors compliance with election reforms spawned by the Rowland scandal, lawmakers ought to repeal the CEP changes they made last year and look for other ways to strengthen the program.

The Citizens’ Election Program is and has been a critical and important investment in accountable government. Gov. Dan Malloy, who stood up for the program when it was on the chopping block last year, must make clear that he will not allow it to be crippled.

Karen Hobert Flynn, a Middletown resident, is national president of Common Cause and was one of the architects of the Citizens Election Program.


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