- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

HARTFORD, Conn. | Sen. Barack Obama may have abandoned public financing for his presidential campaign, but in Connecticut legislative candidates are lining up to get campaign cash from the state government.

About 70 percent of the Nutmeg State’s candidates for General Assembly this year are expected to sign on to a new public-financing election program.

Not only does it provide hefty grants, it offers extra money to combat opponents who don’t participate and a promise of more cash to counter negative ads from third parties.

“Some objected to it originally, but they’re happy with it now,” said state Rep. Al Adinolfi, a Republican from Cheshire. “It gives them more time to get involved with the issues. It keeps everybody on a clean playing field.”

National advocates for public financing hope Connecticut’s voluntary Citizens’ Election Program - along with similar initiatives in Arizona and Maine, and limited programs in Vermont, North Carolina, New Mexico and New Jersey - prove that public financing also could work on the national level for presidential and congressional candidates.

“I think a high participation rate will show what’s possible, especially amid the collapse of the federal system,” said Nick Nyhart, co-founder and director of the Public Campaign, a nonprofit group based in Washington that advocates comprehensive campaign-finance reform.

First-year participation in the Maine and Arizona programs was about 30 percent, said Andy Sauer, executive director of Connecticut Common Cause, which pushed for the new legislation in hopes of ridding state elections of special-interest money.

“For the most part, this is exceeding our expectations,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, reversed his earlier stance and decided to raise millions of dollars on his own, bypassing the federal system that’s been in place since the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s.

President Bush was the first candidate to reject public financing of primaries when he ran in 2000, but no previous candidate had ignored the general election funds.

Mr. Obama said the system is outdated.

“We face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system,” he told supporters in a video message.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said his campaign will take public financing. Accusing Mr. Obama of going back on a promise, the Arizona senator said he wasn’t worried about being outspent in the fall presidential contest.

Mr. Nyhart wasn’t surprised by Mr. Obama’s decision.

“We’re essentially asking candidates to run a 2008 campaign with a ‘70s-era public-financing system,” he said.

“A modern design of a public-financing system is going to draw candidates in, and an antiquated program is going to watch candidates opt out,” he added.

There’s hope that if Connecticut’s system is successful, members of Congress might eventually adopt a similar program to fund their campaigns.

“I think that what I’ve seen so far in Connecticut is impressive. Some other states are doing some funding as well. We’ll look at all of them,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and an advocate of campaign-finance reform. “In four to six years, I think we’ll have a real story to tell.”



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