From the Crow's Nest / Ed Chrostowski
How loud will money talk in state election
Published 1:04 am, Thursday, March 4, 2010
The field of candidates is still crowded, though it has thinned a bit, but it's beginning to look more and more like two millionaires from Greenwich will go head to head for the governor's office in Connecticut's election this fall.
Odds-on front-runners now appear to be Democrat Ned Lamont, who defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman for the Senatorial nomination in 2006, only to lose to him in the main event, and Republican Tom Foley, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
Of real significance here is the fact that both have opted out of public funding of their campaigns, preferring to rely instead entirely on their personal fortunes, just as billionaire Michael Bloomberg did in retaining the New York mayoralty.
That would appear to give them considerable advantage over other estimable hopefuls on either side of the political aisle.
Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, an experienced and capable state legislator before he rose in the ranks, is most likely to challenge Foley for the nomination at the Republican convention in May, although Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is also poised to make a determined bid.
On the Democratic side, Dannel Malloy, who has gained state-wide recognition for his decade as Stamford's mayor, joins Lamont as a leading candidate for the nomination although two lesser known first selectmen, Mary Glassman of Simsbury and Rudy Marconi of Ridgefield, are also in the running.
All of them have considerable support, well deserved, in their home towns, but none has the state-wide name recognition that Lamont gained in his Senatorial bid last year. Nor have any of them the financial resources.
Circumstances suggest that the campaign financing laws in Connecticut, as elsewhere, need some tweaking and not just to accommodate the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations free rein in political contributions. Indeed, the constitutionality of Connecticut's law is currently being questioned in the courts.
The emphasis always seems to be on who may give how much. We need to pay some heed also to how much is spent by the candidates and why some can spend more than others.
In opting for public financing, a gubernatorial candidate qualifies for $3 million from the State Election Fund if he or she raises at least $250,000 in individual donations of no more than $100 each. In return, the candidate is limited to spending $1,250,000 in a primary and $3,000,000 in a general election. The catch here is that self-financing candidates already have a decided edge in not having to raise money and are not at all limited in how much of their own money they can spend on their campaigns.
Undaunted, Malloy, Glassman and some of the others are not convinced that money will talk the loudest in the gubernatorial campaign. Malloy talks about his long-term leadership in what is arguably Connecticut's most prestigious city. Marconi offers regional experience as a leader in the fights over airline flight patterns and Route 7 congestion and Glassman cites her ideas of how towns and cities can work more closely with the state to their mutual advantage. Fedele, knowledgeable about state problems through his years as a legislator and then as an affable lieutenant governor, speaks of his experience at the summit in the State Capitol and Boughton banks on his intimate knowledge of urban needs.
Contrast that with the approaches of Lamont and Foley who have pledged only to match each other dollar for dollar to gain the governor's office. Of course, their willingness and ability to spend hefty sums to win an election doesn't necessarily mean they would bring little else to the position. Bloomberg spent a fortune to get an unprecedented third term and was accused by detractors of buying the mayor's office. But he also has been widely acclaimed for the work he has done in New York.
The point is that there are two sides to this coin of political campaign financing. Foremost, perhaps, is how and from whom the money is raised and if it comes to candidates with some strings attached by donors. But there ought to be as great a concern about the inordinate sums spent to gain various offices in a state as small as Connecticut.
More important, if we truly want to level the playing field for people aspiring to office, there ought to be some assurance that the ceiling on spending will be the same for everybody, publicly financed or privately bankrolled.