The Soap Box

Money and Elections

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

The campaign season will be upon us all soon, and for some, it has already started. Candidates for the general assembly and other statewide offices are holding fundraisers and seeking the Citizens Election Program (CEP) grants. These grants are given out by the state as part of a public financing program for all statewide and general assembly candidates who show that they have enough support to be awarded the grant. This program is unique in the country, and only a handful of states has such a program, and many currently view Connecticut as the gold standard. [1]

The Citizens’ Election Program is what is known as a clean elections program. This means that it is a program meant to keep out corporate contributions to campaigns and not have candidates be in the pocket of big money interests. The way it accomplishes this is to give out campaign grants to qualified candidates. Once those candidates receive the grant, they can’t seek any other money for the rest of their campaign. This also serves to level the playing field because then everyone is running with the same amount of campaign funds.

The Citizens Election Program is regulated by the State Elections Enforcement Commission or SEEC. SEEC’s job is to review grant applications and monitor the required filings of the campaigns to prevent fraud or misuse of the grant money. There are some restrictions on how the money can be spent by participating candidates and it is SEEC’s job to make sure the funds are properly spent. There is a complaint system put together so that citizens can file complaints if they believe there is a violation. SEEC also monitors spending for non-participating candidates in all elections because the CEP is required to be voluntary due to the Buckley v. Valeo supreme court ruling.

Even though CEP is a voluntary program for candidates it still enjoys about 85% participation rate among general assembly candidates. With three-quarters of all candidates using the program the CEP has made Connecticut legislative races the most competitive in the country and has nearly eliminated all contributions to campaigns not made by individuals. [2] The CEP also restricts lobbyist activity and reduces the influence of political action committees in the state.

The program is not perfect however, just like any campaign finance system it can be subject to fraud and abuse. State Senator Dennis Bradley was indicted for campaign finance violations as he “and others entered into a conspiracy and scheme to defraud the Connecticut State Election Enforcement Commission, the Citizens’ Election Fund and the State of Connecticut by making misrepresentations concerning Bradley’s compliance with state election law and the Citizens’ Election Program’s statutory restrictions and requirements in order to fraudulently obtain or attempt to obtain $179,850 in campaign grants.” [3]

Every year hundreds of complaints are filed with SEEC and the commission struggles to investigate them all. SEEC is severely underfunded and understaffed. This is because just after the CEP was passed into law (2008) SEEC had its budget slashed by the legislature the same year and had to reduce staff due to the cuts. There have also been efforts by the legislature to reduce the effectiveness of SEEC at times. [4]

That is why we need to demand the legislature immediately increase SEEC’s budget so that they can do their job in a timely manner. Due to the program’s popularity, SEEC can barely keep up with getting grant applications processed efficiently. They need more funding and more staff to be effective in enforcing the requirements of the program and to protect the program from fraud and abuse. We can’t allow SEEC to be a toothless commission, this program is too important.

[1] https://ctmirror.org/2020/09/14/new-study-cts-citizens-elections-program-has-become-a-national-model-for-clean-elections/

[2] https://ctmirror.org/2020/09/14/new-study-cts-citizens-elections-program-has-become-a-national-model-for-clean-elections/

[3] https://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Bridgeport-officials-campaign-fraud-trial-16746551.php

[4] https://www.courant.com/politics/capitol-watch/hc-pol-seec-working-fast-campaigns-20180614-story.html.

2 replies
  1. Tom G
    Tom G says:

    Candidates are benefitting on money owed to regular people which the state doesn’t attempt to locate and do the right thing. Most people have no idea they are owed the money and the process to obtain it is complexing.

    The fact is, it is easier to run for office, not even care about winning or know what your doing, than to follow the guidelines in order to receive what it rightfully yours”

    Reply

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