I thank the committee for this opportunity to present testimony on the IDC’s campaign finance reform proposal. This testimony is submitted on behalf of myself and Miles Rapoport, President of Demos and former Secretary of the State of Connecticut.
Demos has been involved in campaign finance reform for several years and we recently released a report, called “Fresh Start: The Impact of Public Campaign Financing in Connecticut,” that analyzed the impact public financing has had on campaigning, the legislative process, policy outcomes, and the dynamics of the legislature. We supplemented empirical data with interviews with current and former legislators from both the Republican and Democratic parties, elected state officials, and advocates to highlight the impact of public financing in the state of Connecticut. While only a few electoral cycles in, it is clear that public financing can be a fundamental step towards a more representative legislative process that is more responsive to constituents.
Like the IDC’s proposal, participants in Connecticut’s program must raise a minimum amount from small contributions before qualifying for public funds. Once participants have raised their minimum amount, they qualify for a lump-sum grant. Connecticut’s program is completely voluntary and extremely popular. Currently, 77 percent of sitting legislators participated in the program and all current statewide office holders ran on public financing. Every legislator we interviewed spoke very highly about the program and continually reiterated the popularity of the program with both parties.
Our analysis found that the main benefit to public financing in Connecticut is that it begins to remove the outsized influence of money in the electoral process. The benefits to removing that influence continue through the legislative process. Through a change in who gets elected and the reduced importance of big donor interests, the actual process of legislating becomes more responsive and substantive. Legislators from both parties agree that there has been an increase in bipartisan legislation and more time spent on the substantive aspects of proposals. As a result, the policies that have passed since public financing was adopted are more in line with the public’s priorities.
Recent political science research shows that in elections dominated by large donors, the interests of working- and middle-class voters are poorly served, particularly on economic issues.
Adopting a small-donor based campaign finance system allows the interests and priorities of working-and middle-class constituents to be considered. Small donor based systems also increase the number of unique donors, bringing more people into the political process. The continual 6:1 matching provision proposed by the IDC would elevate the importance of small donors. Further, a continual matching program, like the one proposed by the IDC, brings in even more small donors because candidates can continue their outreach and fundraising throughout the campaign cycle.
Finally, the legislators we interviewed stated that public financing provides them with more freedom and time to speak with constituents, and not lobbyists or corporate interests, and they enjoyed being accountable only to their constituents, and not to special interests that don’t even live in their districts.
Comprehensive campaign finance reform begins with minimizing the impact that affluent and corporate interests have in the electoral system. Public financing is a fundamental first step to creating a legislature that is more responsive and representative. Connecticut’s experience shows that public financing can be success for legislators, constituents, and the legislative process.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have, and the full report is available at http://demos.io/ctfairelex.