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Legislatively Speaking
Your vote does count!

By Gordon Gibson, State Legislative Director

  SEPTEMBER 2010 --

A few years ago Connecticut passed a law authorizing state funds to candidates for state offices provided they first raised a certain amount of money on their own without accepting more than $100 from any one person and did not accept any campaign contributions from businesses or lobbyists. The idea behind this was to give people of modest means an opportunity to run for public office without having to accept large campaign contributions from businesses or lobbyists to whom they would feel obligated after they were elected. To be fair, many lobbyists liked the law because it meant they no longer had to make significant contributions during the campaign in order to have a connection to legislators and state officials.

The amount of state funds available depended on the office the candidate is seeking. Each candidate had the option to accept the terms of the law and accept the state funds or to waive their right to the state funds and accept contributions of any amount from both individuals and businesses. Lobbyists could not contribute to these candidates either.

Regardless of whether or not the candidate accepted the state money, there was no limit on how much each candidate could spend from their own funds. The law did provide that if a candidate for an office spent an excessive amount of money out of his or her own pocket, the opposing candidate could receive additional funds from the State to level the playing field. Candidates for Governor could receive $3 million from the State to finance their campaign and up to an additional $3 million if their opponent outspent them by a large amount.

This year some of the candidates for Governor spent amounts of money during their primary campaigns that had never been seen before. Then they went to court and claimed the law giving additional funds to their opponents was unconstitutional. The judge agreed the existing law was unconstitutional, but wisely turned the whole matter back to the General Assembly rather than tell everyone what could and could not be done in the middle of one of most hectic campaign seasons ever known in Connecticut.

The General Assembly met in special session and revised the law to say that candidates for Governor who had met the basic requirements for receiving state funds would be given $6 million, claiming those who had complied with the old law would be unjustly hurt if they were denied the State funds. Governor Rell vetoed this bill on the grounds that the State could not afford to spend this much money on the campaigns, but the General Assembly had enough votes in favor of the bill to override her veto and the new bill is now law.

As in the previous law, candidates for other offices are eligible for lesser amounts. Despite the expensive campaigns waged by the various candidates, the voter turnout for the primaries on August 10 was very small. Statewide, only about 20% of those eligible to vote in either party's primary voted. Some voters said they did not vote because they did not like any of their party's candidates while others said they did not vote for any candidate as much as they voted against a candidate they did not like. Others did not vote because they felt their one vote would not change anything.

This was a big mistake on their part. I have not studied every primary race in the state, but in one House of Representatives district the final vote, after a mandatory recount, was 1153 for the winner and 1151 for his opponent. A total of 2304 votes were cast in that district, but only two votes determined the winner. In another district, only 759 people cast their ballot and the contest was decided by five votes.

What would the results have been if even half the eligible voters had cast their ballots? No one will ever know. My point here is that every ballot does count. Elections for state officials, one senator, five representatives in Congress and all the seats in the General Assembly will be held on November 2. We know we will have at least five new state officials and a new Senator in Congress because the incumbents are not running for reelection. We will also have some new legislators in the General Assembly because some of the present legislators are not running for reelection. Soon we will all be seeing and hearing from the candidates, each seeking our votes. Take the time to find out where the candidates stand on the issues that are important to you. Be an informed voter, but above all, VOTE. Remember, every vote counts.


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