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How Are Connecticut’s Gubernatorial Candidates Funding Their Campaigns?

Christian Carter
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst were among the gubernatorial candidates speaking at a forum in Stratford Thursday night.

In Connecticut, the candidates running for governor have intensified their campaigning now that the ballot is set for the August 14th party primaries. This week, four of the seven major party candidates in the race showed up at a forum in Stratford held by a regional interfaith group called Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut.

Four years ago, both Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and his Republican challenger Tom Foley received $6.5 million each to contest the general election. This year neither of the two Democratic Party primary candidates is participating in the Citizens’ Election Program.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim would have liked to, but he is barred because he served seven years in federal prison for public corruption when he was first mayor in the 1990s. Ganim says he believes his campaign will overcome the setback.

“For me, I’ve learned from my mistakes and now have an opportunity to make Connecticut government better, as I think I’ve tried to do in the last couple of years in the Bridgeport government. So I don’t think the money is a handicap. And we will have grassroots efforts. We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hopefully we’ll raise over a million and that will put us in a position not only to be competitive but of course to win.”

His Democratic rival, wealthy Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, is running a self-funded campaign.

“No, I’m not going to apply for public financing, but I am going out and getting thousands of small money donations to show that this is a grassroots campaign with a lot of grassroots energy.”

On the Republican side, party-endorsed candidate Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst have already received $1.3 million each in state funding for the primary. Herbst says he’s participating in state funding because it shows voters that he’s not beholden to big money interests.

“And I felt that it’s important to participate in a clean elections program if you are committed to taking on the special interests in Hartford. The lobbyists, those that curry favor, those that have been part of the problem for the last 40 years.”

Madison businessman Bob Stefanowski and former Greenwich hedge fund manager David Stemermen have opted out. Stemermen launched his campaign with $2.5 million of his own money. He’s just pledged to add another $10 million this week. Stemermen says he’s spending a lot of the money on television ads.

“It’s a great way for me to introduce myself. And I’m happy to have earned the money that I'm able to put behind this campaign to share my ideas with the people of Connecticut,” Stemerman said.

Westport entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik is also participating in the program but has yet to be awarded public money. On Wednesday, the State Elections Enforcement Commission voted to investigate potential campaign finance violations by Obsitnik, which could have potentially devastating consequences for his candidacy.  

Sacred Heart University Political Science Professor Gary Rose says money might not be the determining factor in this election though.

“Ganim is right that he can perhaps make important contacts without that money. And he can raise some money. But nevertheless the TV ads are still very powerful messages. So I still think that puts him at a disadvantage compared to the individuals on the citizens’ election fund or whether they are self-funded.”

Rose says the fall election might be determined by who wins the Democratic Party primary.

“If it’s Ganim, I think the advantage goes to the Republican. If it’s Lamont, then I think he begins with an advantage over the Republican.”

He says another factor that might play a role are two politicians who are very unpopular in Connecticut right now – Republican President Donald Trump and outgoing Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy.

“Neither one of them will be on the ballot but figuratively they will be.”

For now the candidates are focused on the August 14th party primaries, which are only six weeks away.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.