On Monday November 16th, the Democrats in the Connecticut state legislature released a budget aimed to reduce shortfalls. Among the items to be chopped was Connecticut’s Clean Election Program. This program, implemented in 2005 after a corruption scandal involving then governor John Rowland, levels the playing field in the state elections through public financing of elections.
Under this law, once candidates raise a certain amount of money in small donations, they are entitled to a government grant to cover their election campaigns. This allows each candidate to spend his or her time talking to constituents, not searching for money. Clean Elections not only ensures that those without money can participate in the electoral process, but it also allows people of all socio-economic levels to run for office. The implementation of this system made Connecticut only the third state in the country to have publicly financed elections.
The November 16th proposal would have suspended Clean Elections for the 2016 election cycle. Though this would be a temporary measure, there was no guarantee that the law will reemerge as functional, or, if it would reappear at all. On Thursday November 19th, both houses of the state legislature declared that Clean Elections was no longer being considered for defunding.
Given overwhelming public support nationwide to limit the role of money in elections and the subsequent momentum created by Election Day victories in Maine, Seattle, and Ohio, the proposal to halt Clean Elections was baffling.
“In 2005, Democracy Matters students were in the center of the fight for Clean Elections in Connecticut. They worked tirelessly, putting in countless hours in addition to their studies and work, because they believed this law would be historic. They deeply felt that this reform would restore their faith in a system that, in their minds, had completely lost it,” Democracy Matters executive director, Joan Mandle, explained. “When the law finally passed, our students had a new outlook on the political process. They legitimately felt that their voices mattered, that they mattered. I was therefore greatly disappointed when I learned of the Connecticut legislature’s plan to defund Clean Elections. Suspending integrity and fairness in the electoral process in the face of budget cuts would have been shortsighted, undemocratic, and, frankly, shameful.”
Democracy Matters therefore applauds the Connecticut Democrats for having reconsidered defunding Clean Elections. We hope that the strong, immediate public backlash served as a reminder that a clean democratic process is not expendable.