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East Lyme - State Senate hopeful Paul Formica has challenged all candidates running for statewide office who have qualified for public financing to limit their spending of state funds and return 1.5 percent of their grant after Election Day.
"Here in East Lyme when we started with our budget I challenged our department heads to not spend 1.5 percent of their budget and return funds to the town," said Formica, East Lyme's first selectman and the Republican candidate for the 20th District state Senate seat. "I offer the same challenge to all candidates in the state receiving state campaign financing. Let's be efficient and return 1.5 percent of each of our campaigns back to the state of Connecticut. I am going to do it and hope you will too."
Formica and his opponent, Democrat Betsy Ritter, have each qualified for $94,690 through Connecticut's voluntary Citizens' Election Program, which provides public financing to candidates for statewide office and the General Assembly who meet certain criteria.
If 1.5 percent of the $94,690 was given back, that amount would be $1,420.35.
"I think that is certainly an admirable idea," said Ritter, who has served as 38th District state representative since 2004. "In the past I have always returned money and would very much hope to do so again."
Joshua Foley, spokesman for the CEP program, said most campaign finance committees spend the bulk of their public funding.
Some candidates, he said, "return virtually nothing, and some others are very frugal and return quite a bit."
Ritter said in some campaigns she has returned "sizeable amounts" to the program.
To qualify, candidates must raise an aggregate amount through $5 to $100 contributions from individuals, meeting a threshold based on the office they are seeking. For a state Senate race, candidates must raise $15,000 from 300 residents who live within the district they are running in.
The majority of CEP's funds come from the proceeds of the sale of abandoned property in the state, as well as donations.
In 2010, the last time the state elected a governor, other top-of-the-ticket officers and a General Assembly, the CEP gave out $28 million. This year, the number will likely be similar, but it has not been calculated yet.
Formica said his challenge is similar to what he promoted in East Lyme, and that resulted in a $500,000 boost to the town's undesignated fund balance.
About five years ago, at budget preparation time, the first selectman said he challenged municipal department heads to ask for what they needed, but not to feel obligated to spend it all.
"I wanted to get a handle on that rush to spending that occurs at the end of every spending cycle," he said. If municipal funds were not expended and returned, department heads were told their budgets would not be shorted the next year.
"You are empowered to spend what you need, but you don't have to spend it all," he said of his message to his staff.
Formica believes the same can happen with the state's public campaign financing.
When the program was created almost a decade ago, the goals were to allow candidates to compete without reliance on special interest money, allow statewide officers and legislators the ability to make decisions free of influence, restore public confidence, increase citizen participation, and provide the public with useful and timely disclosure of campaign finances.
Candidates who participate are limited to the use of public funds, file affidavits and are closely audited.
Grants are given for both primary and general election races and amounts vary depending on the office and other factors, such as whether a candidate is running unopposed.
For more information about CEP, visit www.ct.gov and search for "Citizens' Election Program."