Student activist group UConnPIRG is working to preserve public funding in elections for statewide offices and the Connecticut General Assembly.
According to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Citizens’ Election Program receives financing from the Citizens’ Election Fund. Voluntary donations and proceeds from the sale of abandoned property in state custody predominantly make up the fund.
“And how it works, without getting too technical, is basically if there’s a candidate running for a certain office position and the Citizens’ Election Program is supported in that area, then the idea is that by rejecting any sort of big money donations, they would be able to participate in this sort of matching system where any small amounts that I think are under $100 or $200, something like that, that come from small donors are matched by the government, and it’s essentially doubled,” UConnPIRG treasurer and sixth-semester psychology and accounting major Alexander Pawlak said. “So it basically increases the impact of small donors when they go and vote and support political candidates.”
According to Pawlak and Matthew Byanyima, a volunteer for UConnPIRG’s Democracy campaign and fourth-semester political science major, the program is currently under scrutiny from state legislators of both parties due to proposed state budget cuts.
“There’s been a whole debate about the budget and how cuts need to be made…so it’s not just this program that’s under attack, it’s a lot of other things, including UConn’s budget,” Byanyima said. “But we think that this program is so important because it gives people in the state confidence about the election process.”
Byanyima said that the program “levels the playing field” for candidates.
“And the best part about this is that it’s a strong incentive for political candidates to appeal to everyday citizens, and that’s why I think it’s really an important program,” Byanyima said.
Pawlak said that in recent years, UConnPIRG attempted to receive assurances from Mansfield officials that they would not accept “big-money donations” in local elections.
“We also don’t just focus on the Citizens’ Election Program. In past semesters, we tried to get officials in Mansfield to basically publicly say that they would not take big-money donations, although that unfortunately didn’t really end the way we wanted it to…that would’ve been fall of 2015, I believe is when we tried to do that,” Pawlak said. “It’s not that the idea was met with a bad response, they just thought that it wasn’t really applicable to them.”
UConnPIRG will host an event on April 18 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Student Union to increase awareness about the program.
“We’re trying to invite various fairly high-profile Connecticut politicians. We’ve invited (state Rep., D-Mansfield) Gregg Haddad, (state Sen., D-Killingly) Mae Flexer…it’d be nice to get some Republicans in there for more bipartisan support,” Pawlak said. “Essentially it’s going to be a panel where those people are going to talk about their experiences running as candidates and how the Citizens’ Election Program had empowered their candidacy and allowed them to get to where they are today. So it’s sort of like a Citizens’ Election Program thank-you event, and also to raise awareness about the whole topic and the fact that it’s in danger.”
Byanyima said that the proposed state budget cuts which might impact the Citizens’ Election Program are very concerning.
“And the big worry is that it could be permanent. We’re talking about cuts right now but the fear is that it could become a permanent kind of thing,” Byanyima said. “I mean it’s part of a larger trend in American politics today: Do people have confidence in democracy when it appears their politicians are getting a lot of money, whether it’s political corruption or not? When you see a candidate receiving a lot of money, even on the state level, people begin to feel very skeptical.”
Alexandra Retter is staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.