Most Americans believe that money has too much influence in our elections and there is widespread recognition that there is need for changes to our campaign financing system. In order to clean up our elections, encourage more citizens to run for office, and give a political voice to the underrepresented, one method is the of the utmost important: public financing.
In 2016, ballot initiatives swept across the country, aimed at reducing the role of money in politics and enhancing the voices of ordinary Americans. From places like South Dakota and Missouri to California, states and counties undertook measures to publicly finance elections, enact anti-corruption packages, and implement automatic voter registration. Even in our small state of Connecticut, big change has been happening when it comes to electoral reform.
Based on similar initiatives in Maine and Arizona, Connecticut transformed its election processes with the Citizens’ Election Program (CEP). Introduced in 2005, the CEP is a voluntary program which provides full public financing to qualified candidates for Statewide offices and the General Assembly. These grants cover all election-related costs. The CEP is financed by the Citizens’ Election Fund, which receives funds primarily from the proceeds of the sale of abandoned property in the State’s custody, as well as voluntary donations. Candidates qualify for the CEP by collecting a specific number of $5 to $100 donations from citizens in their district or, if they are seeking statewide office, from anyone in Connecticut. These donations must be from individuals only, not corporations or PACs.
In 2016, all current state officers (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of the State, Treasurer, Comptroller, and Attorney General) ran their election campaigns on CEP grants. About 89% of the current Representatives and Senators ran for their seat in the Connecticut General Assembly on CEP funding, based on data collected by the League of Women Voters of Connecticut.
Before Thanksgiving Break, The Undergraduate Student Government passed legislation to support and call for the continuance of the CEP. These efforts could not have been timelier. The initial proposed budgets in the General Assembly would have had adverse consequences for democracy in the state of Connecticut. The budget would have dramatically reduced the citizens election program, nearly eliminating it, and would return the state of Connecticut to the scandal ridden years before the program was passed in 2005. By determination and sheer willpower, we managed to ward off cuts to the program.
For a 10th of a percent of our state budget (about $10.5 million), we have reaffirmed our commitment to fairer elections, a more just campaign finance system, and a desire for more representation. This was fundamental to keeping our integrity in our electoral politics and giving more power to ordinary voters, and limits the influence of corporate and special interests. No price can be put on clean elections, a level playing field for candidates and politicians seeking accountability to their constituents, and independence from corporate and special interest groups.
This growing Democracy Movement can bring meaningful change. As one of the largest voting blocs in the country, young people aged 18 to 29 can make a tangible difference in our political system if we speak up and show up to matters that affect us. We can see this through all the passed ballot initiatives through multiple states and the changing rhetoric of our representatives, who now more than ever are more open to change to our current campaign finance system.
There is still resistance, there are still pessimists, there are still those that believe this cannot be done, but you know better than I, that with enough support, and with enough effort, anything is possible. The CEP has opened up politics to those who don’t have access, has given candidates more time to talk to voters than to fundraise, and has curbed the influence of corporations, the rich, and special interests on state elections. Many states still have no form of public campaign financing, the Democracy Movement is not finished, we have barely begun. Visit your friendly Public Interest Research Group Democracy Campaign in Student Union Room 214 to get involved.