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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Democracy Fund Board eyes change to financing process

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
—The Democracy Fund Board continued its year-long quest to revamp the city’s campaign financing program this week, recommending a change that would allow a candidate unchallenged in a primary to receive a general election grant sooner.
But with restrictions still in place barring candidates from collecting grants until an election is deemed "contested," meaning two candidates have raised more than $5,000, the new scenario would be triggered only in cases where at least two qualified candidates, who are not in the party for which the primary will be held, have begun their general election campaigns early.
Last year, neither Republican Richter Elser nor Green Party candidate Ralph Ferrucci raised enough to qualify for public funding, or to consider the election contested by the Democracy Fund.
Under the current city ordinance, candidates cannot qualify for the $15,000 general election grant until the primary is over. In a city dominated by Democrats, Republican or minor party primaries are rare, allowing Democrats to hold high-profile, publicly-funded primaries while other candidates must wait for grants in the general race.
Candidates are still eligible for separate matching funds as soon as they qualify for the program.
Monday night, the Democracy Fund Board voted to "scrap the timing issue," said board Chairman Caleb Kleppner. "Ultimately, we decided to recommend allowing general election grants to be given before the primary, if there is a candidate who qualifies and another candidate who has raised sufficient funds to make it a contested election," he said.
But, "the case is pretty remote," he said. "It would take two candidates not in a primary raising money for the general," he said.
The board may continue to tweak the rule, including how a general election is deemed contested, said Kleppner.
"If someone wins a Democratic primary, let’s just assume there’s a serious candidate," he said.
"Don’t wait for the next campaign finance report," he said. "It allows the Democrat to game the public financing system. They can hold off on raising and spending money to deprive the Republican of the grant. That’s not an incentive you want to build into a program like this."
Kleppner said he expected the board would wrap up their review of the ordinance next month. Recommendations will then be passed to the Board of Aldermen for action. New Haven is the first city in the state to experiment with publicly financed mayoral elections, and last year was the program’s trial run. While all candidates in the last mayoral election signed on to the program, agreeing not to accept contributions from businesses and political action committees, ultimately few public dollars were spent, and nothing was given during the general election.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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