Friday, August 12, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform Group: Candidates Still Need to Raise Money

Money Threshold would be Required for Candidates Seeking Public Funds

Apparently, the campaign finance reform working group is looking for ways to put the money back in to politics.

A legislative task force is considering requiring candidates who want public campaign funds to raise set amounts of money from regular people in their districts first.
The group reached a tentative consensus Thursday on requiring a $5,000 threshold for House races and a $10,000 threshold for Senate races. The lawmakers said they want to require at least some of that money to be raised from inside a candidate's district, from people who are not lobbyists or state contractors.

"You're encouraging people to connect back with their core constituents," said Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, adding that the goal is to encourage more grass-roots campaigning. (AP)

Sure it is. Notice how "campaigning" and "fundraising" are exactly the same thing, here.

Let's assume that this proposal is enacted. Would it help to create a more level playing field for challengers? Not surprisingly, the answer is no. According to the Institute on Money in State Politics, challengers in Connecticut House races in 2004 raised an average of only $6,416, while challengers in Senate races raised an average of $24,509. This means that challengers in House races would still have to spend a huge amount of time fundraising just to qualify for state funds. This does very little to remove money's influence from state politics. Senate races would be a bit better, but $10,000 is still an awful lot of money to raise just to qualify for funds from the state.

Incumbents, on the other hand, raised an average of $21,985 in 2004 House races, and an average of $76,994 in Senate races. Raising the threshold amount would be much, much easier for an incumbent, especially if the amount required to come from the incumbent's district was relatively small.

The working group's proposal would help to tilt the advantage back towards incumbents, even if the state finances elections. It would also help to reinstate the influence of lobbyists and contractors over state races.

If we're going to have public finance state campaigns, let's actually do that. Scrap any monetary threshold requirements. If the state is worried about funding candidates who will only poll 1% or less, then raise the amount of verifiable signatures needed to get on the ballot, or create a separate, higher signatures requirement in order to qualify for public funds. Let's not fool ourselves that the creation of a monetary threshold will work to the advantage of anyone but incumbents and lobbyists.

"Lawmakers continue debate on campaign finance." Associated Press 12 August, 2005.


Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree. A monetary threshold ensures that public tax dollars will only go to finance only those candidates with some broad support in their district. While I will concede the thresholds could be lower fo challenegers, I do believe they play an important role in campaign financing. Otherwise, tax dollars could go to any vanity candidate without a shot of winning.

Genghis Conn said...

Right, which is why we could require that a high number of signatures be gathered in order to get public financing. That way, candidates can show that a significant segment of the population supports them.

BDRubenstein888 said...

The Public can decide who is a "vanity" candidate or not...i believe that the lower the threshold the better...

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to say that the entire campaign finance reform movement is based on the false presumption that corruption in our state is rooted in campaign fundraising, which is mostly false. Think about the political figures most recently associated with corruption (Silvester, Rowland, Ganim, Newton, etc). Each of these people are connected with personal corruption (i.e. taking money, bribes, gifts, etc) and each of them have been caught.

Connecticut has some of the most strict campaign finance laws in the country and the media/general public can easily see who is donating to a particular candidate and if the individual voter doesn't like it, they can vote for another candidate.

Think about it...the problem isn't as much about campaign donations as it is about politicians who have been caught accepting personal gifts.

Genghis Conn said...


I don't think that Rowland-style corruption is the entire rationale behind public financing of campaigns. Lawmakers are tied to their larger contributors in ways that could (and do) influence voting habits. One of the things lobbyists can offer (indirectly) in exchange for the "correct" vote is financial support. Elected officials live in fear of losing that support. Public financing would help solve this problem.

Public financing would also hopefully level the playing field between incumbents and challengers a bit. Right now, incumbents have a huge advantage in fundraising (see the numbers I posted in the main article), and they win most of the races they enter. Seats don't change hands very often. Eliminate the fundraising disparity, and the challenger at least has an equal opportunity to get his/her views out there.

I think public financing will be good for democracy, and I don't mind paying slightly higher taxes for it.

Anonymous said...

Since the 5K qualifying threshold is below the average for challenge candidates it IS a reasonable level for public matching dollars of as high as 20K. If you honestly think that the number of petition signatures indicates a level of support/interest, I gotta a bridge I can sell you in Brooklyn. Many people sign petitions with little knowledge of candidate. Just ask Mike DeRosa who probably has gotten more petition signatures than he has gotten votes in ALL the elections he has run against John Fonfara.

Genghis Conn said...


So DeRosa should be cut out of public financing, I take it? As annoying as he is, he does present an alternative, and that's valid and worthwhile. He'd still need to go out and do plenty of campaigning before he could even collect the signatures required.

I also don't like the "voters are stupid--they'll sign anything" theory. Petitions to get on the ballot would be very different than petitions to get public funding.

Anonymous said...

Public financing is a ruse, and no one is talking about the real reform-- redistricting.

You will never get money out of politics. Never. Look at the 527s. When they get rid of them, another way for special interest to spend money on politics will pop up. We can debate whether money buys influence (I don't think it does-- I think it buys access, but tends to flow to candidates who already agree with the special interest), but the money will always flow to incumbents.

Real political reform would be to take the power to draw districts away from the Legislature. How many General Assembly seats are truly competitive? The Senate has an ok number of seats (maybe a third) which could go either way...but the House likely has less than a dozen out of 150+.

We should give redistricting to the Supreme Court (as they are proposing in CA) or to a computer (which is how they do it in Iowa...the legislature gets an up or down vote on a proposal but together by alogryhtms inputed into a computer..e.g., straight lines, keep towns together, etc.)

Forget this malarky about campaign finance reform and get to real reform. Maybe then we would get some real competition in the General Assembly.

Genghis Conn said...

Both public financing and nonpartisan redistricting are good and useful reforms, I believe. No, we can't get the money out of politics entirely. But we can limit its influence and level the playing field.

I agree that redistricting shouldn't be within the legislature's purview. The Supreme Court is a fine place to put it.

Joe Jolly said...

In the local public financing ordinance that we wrote for New Haven, we stuck with the threshold concept. However, ours was based on the total number of donors as opposed to the total amount of donations. Our thinking is that it's important to prioritize quantity (aka broader support) over quality (aka contribution size). We also proposed matching donations of all sizes with a fixed public contribution amount (as opposed to 1:1 matching, etc).

The threshold we settled on was 200 donations of $25 or more (max $300), and all donations matched with $50. I tend to think this is a pretty reasonable approach, and definitely not hard to do (to give you a sense: so far in my current aldermanic re-election campaign, I've received mostly $25 contributions from over 100 donors, most of whom live right in my poorer than average neighborhood - so if I were running for Mayor I'd already be over halfway viable to qualifying).

We did have a bit of debate over whether $25 is too much. However, (again citing my recent fundraising), I've been astonished by the number of people who are excited to become invested in a campaign that's close-to-home, especially folks who normally don't get involved in politics, or neighbors with less than average discretionary funds.

Anyway, we of course still haven't gotten the CT legislature to pass enabling legislation allowing us to enact the ordinance. However, "quantity over quality" does seem like an approach worth considering as statewide moves forward.

Anonymous said...

Making a threshhold for contributions would bring back the political parties importance , also. The easy way to raise money in a district is to go to the people that are interested in politics. It is much easier to get 100 of them to part with $50 than it is to get 250 non political types to part with $20. Restrict the money that could be spent in a primary to what the state would give, and let people fight it ot on the issues, or just open up the election to whoever wants to run, and give position on the ballot out by lottery, not party. There are lots of ways to make the process more open. But I do not believe that most elected officials are in favor of them

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how the candidates for Guv and for Congress (and anyone else you interview) feel about campaign finance reform. More than that, it would be interesting to ask if anyone has voted for or against.