Monday, June 9, 2008

CT Public Campaign Financing - State Funded Political Welfare

Well, as we complete nominating conventions across the state and campaigns gear up for November elections I feel compelled to comment on the new public financing campaign laws that were enacted by our CT State Legislature. They claim it will reform the way political donations are made and received and that the new system "levels the playing fields".

Governor Rell just issued a press release giving it her blessing and saying that these reforms which were made here are a model for the rest of the nation. She explains in her press release to the public that it's ok for politicians to take state money because "it isn't taxpayer money".

In my view, this new public financing scheme for political campaigns is nothing more than State funded political welfare. And I believe that no candidate can possibly in good conscience run with a message of reducing the size and expenditures of state government while taking government funding for their campaign. How can any politician taking this money, look you the taxpayer and voter in the eye and say that they will reduce government waste and spending, put state money to good use, and seek less government rules and regulations? It would seem to me that our state surely has more pressing issues to spend precious state money on, than financing political campaigns where money will be used for lawn signs, bumper stickers, robo calls and probably millions of pounds of paper in the form of distasteful and annoying mail that gets thrown in the circular file upon receipt.

The fact that this money may come largely from unclaimed liquidated assets from Connecticut citizens, does not mean that the state should piss it away on political campaign propaganda. There is so much more that could be done with that money like, funding a reading program, giving CT citizens home heating oil relief, fully funding the Education Cost Sharing grants, or a host of other more worthwhile programs.

The rules of public campaign finance "reform" can be found here and the State's Election and Enforcement webpage about it is here. Here is another basic explanation. The one good thing about it, is that it is voluntary.

Basically here is how it works for example for State House Candidates; in order to qualify for the $25,000, "grant money", a candidate has to get $5,000 in private donations from people in any city that is represented by his district. At least 150 people have to donate money to the campaign. Parents may donate $100 and 12 year old (or younger) children can donate $30. Once the magical amount of $5,000 in private donations is reached, the candidate can apply for this state "grant". If his opponent out spends him, he gets automatic supplementary payments up to $25,000, and if another group or individual targets him with negative ads he gets up to another $25,000. The amounts and thresholds are higher for Senate candidates.

So where is the money coming from to fund this welfare bonanza? The answer can be found here on page 5:
The Citizens’ Election Fund

The Citizens’ Election Program is financed by the Citizens’ Election Fund. The CEF is a separate, non‐lapsing fund within the State’s General Fund. See CONN. GEN. STAT. § 9‐701. The primary source of the CEF’s deposits is money derived from the sale of property deposited in the State’s Special Abandoned Property Fund, which is administered by the State Treasurer. See CONN. GEN. STAT. § 3‐69a. In addition to the sale of abandoned property in the State’s custody, the CEF is comprised of voluntary contributions, as well as interest earned on the CEF’s assets. For a report on the status of the CEF as of December 31, 2006, see App. B, Report to the Connecticut General Assembly Concerning the Status of the Citizens’ Election Fund as of December 31,2006 (May 18, 2007).

Projected Total Available Funds in CEF for 2008 General Assembly Elections

As of December 21, 2007, the CEF contains $35,674,342.17 available for grant disbursements. Following the passage of Public Act 05‐5, the State Treasurer has deposited a total of $30,000,000 into the CEF ($15,000,000 deposited in each fiscal year for FY06 and FY07). In accordance with CONN. GEN. STAT. § 3‐69a(a)(2), as amended by Section 97 of Public Act 07‐1 (June Special Session), the State Treasurer must deposit an additional $15,000,000 from the sales of abandoned property into the CEF for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 (FY08) for purposes of the payment of grants to participating candidates.
Thus, the CEF will contain in excess of $50,000,000 for grant disbursements for the 2008 General Assembly election cycle.
Wow! $50 million dollars so these politicians can blow it on chatchkas to promote their campaigns. This will be a windfall to every specialty printer and advertiser and campaign marketers in general. I was at a recent political program and I have to tell you that the mass mailing and robo call pitch men were practically salivating over the dollars that will come their way from the sea of candidates sitting before them.

In a time when this state's budget is facing deficits and money is badly needed for education and heaven forbid - tax relief, the CT taxpayer should be fuming mad that this State money is being crapped away by the political machine on both sides of the aisle.

As far as the State political machines go, they all claim that if you don't take this public money you are doomed to lose, despite the fact that both sides of the aisle are participating and someone has to lose.

And let's take a look at the notion of abandoned it entirely proper for the State to liquidate those assets for the good of statewide politicians? If the State won't spend it on worthwhile government programs (if there are any), why not give it to charity? If the State must redistribute that wealth at all, why don't they use it in a more worthwhile endeavor? I just find the whole concept of this political welfare scheme distasteful and incredibly wasteful.

I also personally think this campaign finance law is full of a ton of loopholes and very badly conceived. A leading advocate of this political welfare scheme was none other than Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, who unfortunately is currently my State Representative. This man comes from a well to do family and has aspirations of higher office. He needs this political welfare and State handout like Newcastle needs coal. He'll have the unions behind him, and he will always do their bidding, whether he takes this money or not - so the illusion that this campaign reform takes the special interests out of the picture is just that - an illusion.

If they wanted real campaign finance reform they should have just said that PAC money and special interest money and money from businesses should be capped. Period. Leave the rest of the fundraising to the campaign and keep government out of it. Funding campaigns was never, and never should be, a function of government at any level.

I think it will also make politicians more lazy. Some are thanking God right now that they won't have to do that exhausting door-to-door thing or bother with fundraisers or even meet most of their constituents in person. They'll just bug a small bunch of people they already know (150 for the House or 300 for the Senate) for a few bucks initially so they can reach their dollar amount to qualify for the state handout. Your needs become less to them overall and the only reason you are important to them is to initially help them qualify for their grant. Incumbents won't really have to see you at fundraisers or talk to you or go door to door anymore. Then in return, you just get a whole lot of mail and phone calls trying to get you to vote for them.

The state of CT has social welfare, corporate welfare, medical welfare, educational welfare, and now political welfare. Taxes go up so your money can be redistributed as the State sees fit. You'd think the Purse in Hartford was just one big ATM machine with taxpayers making the deposits and a select few with the card and password to make the withdrawals.

Here is the list of participating and non-participating candidates from the SEEC website.

So far, there are a few candidates who are opting out of this system of political welfare:

P. Faith McMahon running in the 15th District
Chad Thompson running in the 20th District
Manmohan C. Sachdev running in the 60th District
David Aron running in the 91st District
Stephen D. Dargan running in the 115th District
James A. Shapiro running in the 144th District

Bravo to them - it would seem that purely by virtue of their decision not to take State money they truly understand the role and purpose of government. It seems they know that raising campaign funding is the job of their campaign - it's not the government's job nor is it the government's place to put money gained by the government from citizens, taxpayers or anyone else into the pockets of politicians.

By funding political campaigns like this I think that it also keeps the cost of campaigns artificially high - now they are essentially saying that it costs $30,000 ($5,000 from donors and $25,000 from state grant) to fund a State House race and $90,000 ($15,000 from donors and $75,000 from state grant) to fund a State Senatorial race.

What could YOUR town do with $200,000 ($100,000 for each party) in state money that it will now be giving to the four people running for State House and State Senate in YOUR district? Instead that money will be used on mailers, TV ads, and phone calls.

Now, isn't that a really great use of public money?
But don't fear - Jodi says it's ok and it has her personal stamp of approval.