The Connecticut General Assembly established the Citizens’ Election Program(CEP) during an October Special Session in 2005 (Public Act 05-5/Chapter 157 C.G.S.). The CEP was used for the first time by candidates during the 2008 election cycle. The fund provides statewide and General Assembly candidates with matching grants for both primary and general elections if participants meet the required thresholds of funds raised by in-district contributions. This article will layout exactly what those thresholds are and what candidates may receive from the program.
In order to qualify for a CEP grant, candidates must demonstrate that they have adequate support from the public. This is measured be an aggregate amount of small-dollar monetary contributions, and a percentage of those contributions must be from in-district residents. Statewide candidates may accept contributions of up to $100 per individual, and 90% of their fundraising must come from in-state residents. General Assembly candidates may accept donations of up to $250 but their in-district requirements vary slightly. State senate candidates must raise $15,300 in aggregate and must receive donations by at least 300 in-district residents. House candidates are required to raise $5,100 and receive donations from at least 150 in-district residents. In 2019, individual contribution limits will increase to $250 for statewide candidates as well. However, individual contributions from lobbyists are still capped at $100 and lobbyists may not contribute to a campaign while the legislature is called into session (either regular or special session).
Contributions and signatures often come under scrutiny by the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), who oversees the program. This is why campaign managers and consultants often recommend that candidates raise more than the minimum qualification requirements set by the commission.
Candidates must also obtain ballot access to qualify for CEP. Obtaining ballot access can be achieved by receiving a nomination by an established political party, by petition, or by registering as a write-in candidate. Ballot access is administered by the Secretary of the State. To be nominated by petition, a major party candidate must collect signatures equal to at least 2 percent of the total number of members enrolled in that major party in the state. Write-in candidates must simply register with the Secretary of the State.
Once candidates have achieved the afore mentioned criteria, they may apply for the CEP grant through SEEC. CEP grants are available to qualifying candidates in primaries as well as general elections. Gubernatorial candidates are eligible for up to $1.25 million, and candidates for Lt. Governor may receive up to $375,000. State senatorial candidates get up to $35,000 for primaries, and house candidates up to $10,000. In addition, larger grants are available for General Assembly candidates in “party-dominant” districts.
A party-dominant district is one in which the percentage of registered voters who are enrolled in a major party exceeds the percentage of registered voters in the district who are enrolled in the other major party by at least twenty percentage points. In these districts, senate and house candidates can receive up to $75k and $25k respectively.
In general elections gubernatorial candidates can receive up to $6 million, and other statewide candidates (Atty. General, Sec. of the State, State Comptroller, or Treasurer) may receive up to $750,000. Senate and house candidates get up to $85k and $25k respectively. SEEC will reduce a candidate’s grant proportionately depending on when they meet the qualifying conditions. In 2018 the legislature implemented agrant reduction schedulefor the program. The commission will also reduce a candidate’s grant based on what it refers to as “limited opposition”. For instance, if the candidate faces only a minor party or petitioning opponent who has not demonstrated adequate public support, the grant would be reduced to 60%. If a candidate runs unopposed in the general election, the grant would be reduced to 30%.
CEP has qualifying conditions for minor party and petitioning candidates as well. These candidates are eligible for certain percentages of the grant depending on the public support they demonstrate in the prior general election. For instance, a minor party or petitioning candidate who receives at least 20% of the vote in the prior general election is eligible for the full grant.
Beyond the qualifying conditions laid out in CEP, there are also limitations on how candidates may spend their grant money. Candidates must keep detailed records and regularly report on campaign finances to SEEC. All reports, applications, registrations, and contributions are made public in the interest of transparency. This information is typically made available on the commission’s website.
Did you know?Connecticut is one of fourteen states who have implemented some form of a public financing option for campaigns. And the state is one of only fivewho allow public financing for state legislative offices (the others only allow gubernatorial or judicial candidates to participate) (NCSL).
Quick glimpse at the most recent changes to CEP: The legislature recently made changesto the program in the state budget that was adopted during the 2017 special session.
Senate Bill 2103(Public Act 2005-05)