Poll: Most like public campaign financing

By Mary E. O?Leary, Register Topics Editor

A Zogby International Poll has found a large majority of state residents favor a public campaign financing system.

Commissioned by Common Cause, half of those tallied said they were not aware of the system in Connecticut, which would apply to statewide offices for the first time this year.

But when the program was explained, 79 percent said they favored it, with 58 percent behind fixing those elements that are being challenged in court so it will be functioning for the this year's elections.

Eighty-six percent of the 503 people interviewed earlier in the month agreed lobbyists and political insiders have more influence than average voters. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Common Cause is a nonpartisan advocacy group that has supported campaign finance reform for decades.

Likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy sees the poll results "as a warning for those candidates who think they can brush aside the Citizens' Election Program in order to try and buy a nomination."

If he officially gets into the race, millionaire Ned Lamont, a Democrat, is expected to opt out of the system in order to match GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, who has already donated $2 million of his own funds to his campaign. Lamont spent $15 million of his own funds in his unsuccessful 2006 fight against Joseph I. Lieberman for the U.S. Senate seat.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who dropped her support for the public program when she decided to run for attorney general, rather than governor, has come under fire from her party for that decision. The seven other candidates and potential gubernatorial candidates in both parties all support public financing, as do the three declared secretary of the state candidates.

Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of state operations for Common Cause, said the special state representative election in Stratford March 2 makes it even more important to fix flaws in the system sooner, rather than later.

The district court found treatment of minor parties unconstitutional as well as a "trigger" that would pump more public funds into a campaign to help offset large personal expenditures by wealthy candidates. A challenge to the state's ban on lobbyist and contractor contributions also was heard on appeal.

State law gives lawmakers only seven days from April 15 to fix the program, if it is thrown out by the court before that in an election year. If it isn't fixed, it reverts to pre-2005 rules, when it was heavily dependent on lobbyists' contributions.

Because of the special election date however, if the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the issue before March 2 and lifts its stay, lawmakers only have a week from the earlier date to act, Flynn said. "We shouldn't be playing a game of chicken," she said.

Flynn said the appeals court recently gave the parties only 10 days to submit briefs on how last week's Supreme Court ruling on campaign financing affects Connecticut law.

Lawmakers are expected to offer a new bill in early February that would look to rules in place in New York City that allow candidates to keep raising small contributions toward multiple public matches in tight races, rather than a trigger tied to spending by wealthy candidates. The fix would eliminate the April 15 reversion rule.

Contact Mary E. O'Leary can be reached at 203-789-5731 or moleary@newhavenregister.com.


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