State senate candidates to rely on public campaign funds
FAIRFIELD — All eyes may have been focused on the governor’s race, but local candidates for the General Assembly haven’t been standing idly by.
The contest for the 28th Senate District pits incumbent Republican state Sen. Tony Hwang against newcomer and Democrat Michelle Lapine McCabe.
At this point, McCabe’s war chest is a bit healthier than Hwang’s — she has $37,994 on hand. Hwang’s latest financing statement shows he has a little less than $10,000 to spend. The difference can be attributed, however, to the fact both are participating in the Citizens’ Election Program. McCabe’s application has already been submitted and approved; Hwang’s application submitted at the end of July is awaiting approval.
Under the program, both were required to raise $15,000 in small, local contributions from individuals. Once they achieve that, they submit their application to the State Elections Enforcement Commission for approval. When granted, they receive $90,000 in grant money and their fundraising must stop.
“The whole idea behind the program is to put the candidates on equal footing,” Republican Town Committee Chairman James Millington said.
According to McCabe’s last filing, she received about $28,000, or one-third, of the grant. Democratic Town Committee Chairman Steven Sheinberg said McCabe is getting her grant in installments, and her next filing will reflect the rest of the grant.
But Sheinberg said McCabe’s ability to reach the needed $15,000 “demonstrates the strength of Michelle McCabe’s candidacy and the enthusiasm of voters for a progressive voice and fresh perspective in Hartford.”
He said both Democratic and independent voters, as well as some Republicans, “have been eager to help Michelle with donations to her campaign. In fact, Michelle qualified for the Citizens’ Election Program funding back in May.”
Millington said the amount of the grant for a state Senate race is quite high. “Before this program came along, we didn’t spend anywhere near that,” he said. The cost of a state race in Fairfield, he said, would average about $35,000 to $40,000.
For his part, Millington said he is not a fan of the program, because he said it is is funded with taxpayer dollars. “There’s a way to save some state money,” he said.
According to the SEEC website, the program is financed by the Citizens’ Election Fund, which primarily receives its funds from the sale of abandoned property in the state’s custody, as well as voluntary contributions.
The voluntary program has several goals, including allowing candidates to compete without relying on special interest money, and allow elected officials to make decisions “free of influence” or the appearance they’ve been influenced. It also looks to increase citizen participation — the $15,000 must come from contributions between $5 and $250 from within the district where they seek office.
So far, expenditures reported by the candidates have been minimal. Hwang’s largest expenses include $4,784 for web design and maintenance and a $3,020 “buffer check” to the CEF for funds raised over the $15,000. His campaign has also spent money for food at a local fundraiser and water bottles with his campaign logo that were passed out at the Memorial Day parade.
For McCabe, her big expenses so far have been $2,077 on a website and a $1,675 buffer check. Her other expenses include printing and postage.