- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - State election officials want to better regulate the millions of dollars in outside money that have been pouring into Connecticut’s elections despite a voluntary, public campaign financing system that has been in place for nearly a decade.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has submitted proposed legislation to the General Assembly that would increase the amount of information disclosed about these so-called “independent expenditures.”

SEEC’s bill would also create a new category of campaign spenders with ties to candidates, to be known as “coordinated spenders,” who would no longer be allowed to spend money independently of a campaign. The list could include organizations originally formed by a candidate or former staff.

The proposal is one of numerous election reform bills submitted this session. The amount of outside money spent on Connecticut elections has ballooned since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allowed various groups to independently spend unlimited sums to influence campaigns.

Outside spending on Connecticut’s gubernatorial race grew from $3.4 million in 2010 to more than $18 million in 2014, according to Connecticut Common Cause, even though candidates have access to publicly funded campaign grants. Much of that money paid for the barrage of television ads criticizing either Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy or Republican Tom Foley.

Cheri Quickmire, the group’s executive director, said it is important that voters know who is paying for those ads.

“We want voters to know who is trying to buy which candidates,” Quickmire said Tuesday.

Under SEEC’s proposal, certain tax-exempt groups would be required to reveal their donors, as would any group with more than 100 contributors. Previous state legislation exempted both groups from public disclosure.

Joshua Foley, a staff attorney for SEEC, said such provisions might help voters know more about who is behind the massive contributions from organizations like the Democratic and Republican governors associations. Each dumped large sums into two independent expenditure groups to influence last year’s close governor’s race, but it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine where the money originated.

“Getting rid of those loopholes might get to the donors of a group like the DGA,” Foley said.

Various lawmakers also have filed bills this session that attempt to scrap or scale back the state’s public financing program, which provides funding to candidates who raise small matching contributions and abide by spending limits.

Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, wants to decrease the size of grants to candidates by 20 percent and eliminate them for unopposed candidates, an idea that was proposed in previous sessions.

“I think it is common sense,” she said. “Candidates who do not have any opposition should not be receiving tax dollars to run a campaign against a ghost. In my opinion, it’s really a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said House Republicans plan to push hard for changes to the state’s campaign system this session. In particular, she said the GOP wants to prevent state contractor contributions from being spent on state elections.

The issue arose in the last election when money Democrats had raised for federal candidates was spent on Malloy’s race. While the party said no money from state contractors was used, those contractors were allowed to contribute to the federal account but not the state one.

“It’s starting to get out of hand,” Klarides said. “This year, there was a big magnifying glass on this.”

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