Campaign Finance Issue Still ‘Floating’
With the future of publicly funded election campaigns in Connecticut still up in the air, lawmakers are considering a proposal that would keep the issue “floating” for a little while longer if a judge upholds a ruling that struck the program down.
In 2005, the legislature adopted the Citizens’ Election Program (CEP) to create a voluntary system for publicly financing campaigns. The program was first available to legislative candidates in 2008, and 75% of the candidates participated.
This is the first year candidates for governor and other statewide constitutional offices are eligible.
Last year, however, U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill ruled the program unconstitutional, saying it discriminates against minor parties by imposing additional burdens to qualify for public financing. The ruling also struck down a section that provided supplemental grants to candidates who face high-spending opponents.
The state immediately appealed the ruling, and the wait for a final decision from the appellate court continues. However, the state legislature this month approved a bill that would give legislators more time for adjustment if the appellate court affirms that the CEP is unconstitutional.
Previously, lawmakers had just seven days to fix the program if the appellate court agreed the program was unconstitutional. Under the new law, the legislature would have 30 days to regroup and come up with a remedy if the appellate court, between April 15 and August 15, upholds the decision.
A decision after August 15 would give the legislature 15 days to react. The CEP is also under stress from another direction—some of its funds are being diverted to help close the state’s budget gap.
Lawmakers say they are committed to the financing the program, but $48 million of it so far has been drained for budget reasons. Whether or not the CEP survives its legal and budget obstacles remains to be seen.
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