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Hartford - Connecticut's voluntary public campaign funding program is on pace to dole out a record $35 million in an election marked by a crowded field of statewide candidates who have qualified for the grants.
Despite the large number of participants, the State Elections Enforcement Commission believes it has enough money to cover the allotments.
"It will most certainly be enough, now that we know how many primaries there are, for example," said Joshua Foley, a staff attorney and spokesman for the SEEC. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill recently announced there will be at least 23 primaries on Aug. 12. Most are statewide and legislative races, which are eligible for the public funding.
SEEC, which administers the Citizens Election Program, or CEP, voiced concern earlier this year that it might run short on cash and be forced to provide partial grants because of the large number of anticipated primaries. Foley said the agency was particularly concerned about whether it would have enough money for the 2018 election cycle, predicting "a real crisis down the road."
In response, the General Assembly passed legislation creating an overdraft protection system, allowing state corporation tax revenues to be tapped in case there's not enough available money from the current funding source, which is predominantly unclaimed financial property, such as old bank accounts and stocks.
Foley said the fund, now totaling about $31 million, is scheduled to start receiving an additional $11 million worth of that unclaimed property, known as escheats, over the coming months. He said that should be enough to cover everyone. In 2010, $29 million in grants were awarded in the last statewide election.
In an estimate provided last month to the state's Office of Policy and Management, the elections commission predicted it would ultimately award a total of $34.9 million in grants for the 2014 election. That figure included $12 million for General Assembly races and $13 million for two general election governor grants. As of Friday, not including special elections, 90 candidates had received primary and general election grants worth $14.7 million, according to the SEEC.
Participation in the program, created in 2005 in the wake of the corruption scandal involving former Gov. John G. Rowland, has increased over the years. In 2008, 250 candidates, or 73 percent of the legislative candidates, participated. More than 80 percent of state and legislative candidates are partaking in the program this year, Foley said.
Some of the larger grants have already been doled out in this year's election cycle. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman recently received about $6.5 million. One of Malloy's Republican challengers, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, received $1.35 million for the primary. Should he win, Foley will receive $6.5 million for the general election battle against Malloy. Meanwhile, Foley's primary foe, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, has teamed up with one of the three GOP lieutenant governor candidates, David Walker, to qualify together on a $1.35 million primary grant. They hope to receive SEEC approval on Wednesday.
In order to qualify, gubernatorial candidates had to raise $250,000 in political contributions of $100 or less from registered voters.
Grants for qualified CEP candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, treasurers and secretary of the state are $406,275 each for primaries and $812,550 for the general election. Qualified state Senate candidates receive $38,990 for primaries or $83,550 if running in a party-dominated district. They receive $94,690 for the general election. For state House of Representatives candidates, qualified applicants receive $11,140 for a primary or $27,850 in a party-dominated district. They receive $27,850 for the general election.
Joshua Foley said the commission has taken into account the possibility that the two petitioning candidates for governor, Jonathan Pelto and Joseph Visconti, could qualify for funding as well. However, it's a difficult task. In order to receive a third of the general election grant awarded to the major party candidates, they must collect signatures from 10 percent of the 1.1 million votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, about 110,000 signatures. To receive more money, they must collect additional signatures. Also, they must raise $250,000 in the small contributions.