Connecticut has offered a voluntary public financing system for state-wide constitutional and General Assembly offices since 2008. Through financing from the Citizens' Election Fund, candidates that obtain the required number of small donations can receive a lump sum to fund their campaign. The program is very popular and in 2012, 77 percent of successful candidates were publicly financed.
This report looks at the impact public financing has had on campaigning, the legislative process, policy outcomes, and the dynamics of the legislature. Empirical data is supplemented with interviews with current and former legislators from both Republican and Democratic parties, elected state officials, and advocates to highlight the impact of public financing in the state. While only a few electoral cycles in, it is clear that public financing is a fundamental step towards a more representative legislative process that is more responsive to constituents.
Public financing allows legislators to spend more time interacting with constituents.
As one legislator recounted, “I announced my reelection bid in February and by April, I was done fundraising. So, from April to November, I could focus only on talking to constituents. Without public financing, I would have been fundraising through that entire period.”
Public financing increases the number of donors.
In contrast to fundraising from just a few big donors, publicly financed candidates must receive donations from a minimum number of in-district donors (150 for State House and 300 for State Senate) resulting in a larger donor pool.
Lobbyists’ influence begins to decline with public financing.
A former legislator recalls, “Before public financing, during the session…there were “shakedowns” where lobbyists and corporate sponsors had events and you as a legislator had to go. That’s no longer a part of the reality.”
More people are able to run for office because of public financing.
In 2008, there were the fewest number of uncontested seats since 1998, indicating that more candidates are running.
Public financing helps a more diverse set of candidates get elected.
Public financing is resulting in a legislature that is more representative of the state’s demographics. For example, the Latino representation in the state legislature reached its greatest level in 2012 and women make up 32 percent of the current legislature.
Public financing allows for a more substantive legislative process.
As a current Republican legislator states, “Now, people concentrate more on the issues, read the issues. You see more votes that are bipartisan and the big issues get bipartisan votes.”
Policies adopted after public financing was implemented are more aligned with the public’s preferences and the needs of the people of Connecticut.
With public financing and the alignment of the governor with the legislature, Connecticut passed mandatory paid sick days, increased the minimum wage, adopted an Earned Income Tax Credit, passed in-state tuition for undocumented students, and reversed a nearly 30-year trend that gave bottle deposits back to distributors and redirected the money to public programs.
Connecticut’s experience shows that public financing is a fundamental part of a stronger democracy that is more responsive to constituents, rather than big donor and special interests.
Download the full report to learn more