Flood of cash pouring into state legislative races
An unprecedented amount of money is pouring into Connecticut legislative races as Republicans attempt to take the House and the Senate.
On Wednesday, the Republican State Leadership Committee poured $400,000 into Change Connecticut, a political action committee, or PAC, targeting senate Democrats. That doubles the amount the leadership committee had already spent this year in Connecticut. By Thursday, the PAC spent more than $300,000 of that on digital media, mailers, polling and consulting services in four close races.
“The numbers are absolutely increasing and I would not say that we actually know what normal is right now,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause of Connecticut, said. “It’s clear that there are outside spenders who are trying to influence state elections and they are willing to spend a tremendous amount of money to do so.”
The amount the committee spent dwarfs the $75,000 public grants awarded to Senate candidates under the state’s Clean Elections Program, which was established to reduce special interests’ influence on campaigns.
Former Gov. Jodi Rell — the Republican who oversaw the implementation of the clean elections laws after her predecessor John Rowland resigned in a public corruption scandal — sits on the board of the leadership committee. She could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The committee has funneled more outside money into local races than has ever been seen in the state, Quickmire said. She attributed the increase to the competitiveness of this year’s legislative races — the Republicans would only need to pick up five seats to flip the House and the state Senate is now tied 18-18.
The leadership committee, based in Washington, D.C., has millions on hand from donors like Koch Industries, several family members of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the pharmaceutical company AbbVie and tobacco company Reynolds American, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Filings with the state elections commission show the PAC spent money in September and October opposing Democratic candidates for the state Senate including Steve Cassano, a sitting state senator from Manchester, Middletown state Rep. Matt Lesser, Milford resident James Moroney who is running to replace retiring state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, and Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman.
The top Senate Democrat, Martin Looney of New Haven, said the influx of outside money compromises the state’s public campaign finance program, and is a direct result of the Citizens United ruling, which opened the door for unlimited spending by corporations.
“Connecticut has really become a good investment for dark money opponents to target our Citizens Election Program,” Looney said. “Outside spenders know exactly what percentage of the campaign budget they will be spending. They know if they spend $100,000, they’re doubling the budget on a senate race.”
“The money is absolutely flowing in this election cycle,” Quickmire said.
Quickmire filed an official complaint against Change Connecticut Thursday for not disclosing how it is spending money and who it is targeting in all of its filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Change Connecticut is a PAC organized by charter school lobbyist Bill Phillips. Phillips, who sits on the Board of Directors for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, has publicly backed DeVos, who favors privatized charter schools and a voucher system. Members of the DeVos family have contributed a total of $200,000 to the RSLC.
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