Outside Groups Gearing Up For Connecticut Legislative Races

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two years after outside groups spent more than $16 million on Connecticut’s governor’s race, some are turning their attention to the state’s legislative races, albeit on a much smaller scale.

For the first time, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association has budgeted $400,000 for independent spending it plans to make in as many as 15 General Assembly races. Democrats for Education Reform, which is associated with the political action committee Change Course CT, is also making independent expenditures for the first time in the state’s legislative races.

The national group, which supports charter schools and other public education reforms, has already spent thousands on polling and mailers in a handful of legislative primaries this summer. It was previously involved with the 2015 Bridgeport mayoral race and the 2014 gubernatorial race.

“We know that important, critical decisions are made about public education in the legislature every session. That’s the primary reason we would be involved,” said Amy Selib Dowell, the Connecticut director of Democrats for Education Reform.

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Connecticut Common Cause, said she expects third parties will increase outside spending this year to influence legislative elections, in which the bulk of candidates participate in a state-funded public campaign financing system that strictly limits their spending and fundraising. With a large number of open seats in the Democrat-controlled legislature, 23 out of 187 seats according to the Secretary of the State’s Office, the money spent by these and other groups could have an effect on this year’s election.

“They’re figuring out, increasingly, how this game is played,” Quickmire said.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has allowed such independent expenditures. In Connecticut, however, the outside groups and political action committees cannot contribute directly to the candidates or coordinate with them.

Joe Brennan, CBIA’s president and CEO, said his organization’s board of directors decided to “test the waters” with independent expenditures this year and move beyond endorsing candidates. The group is spending money on social media and other methods to help elect or re-elect candidates, Republicans and Democrats, who support policies CBIA believes will improve the state’s economy. The vast majority of candidates CBIA is supporting with independent expenditures, however, are Republicans.

“It’s not personal, it’s not partisan,” he said. “It’s really driven by their voting record.”

Brennan said CBIA decided to get its message out directly to the public, given recent polling that shows strong voter dissatisfaction with the state’s budget, taxes, economy and jobs picture.

“We’re not reaching our potential in Connecticut, and we think part of that is because of policy decisions made in Hartford,” he said.

The MetroHartford Alliance also filed paperwork for the first time to make independent expenditures. However, President and CEO Oz Griebel said the alliance is only distributing a questionnaire to candidates in the 38-town Hartford region on key issues such how to grow private sector employment and economic growth. The answers will be posted on the alliance’s website.

Susan Yolen, vice president of public policy and advocacy at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said her group made its first independent expenditures in a handful of Connecticut legislative races two years ago. This year, for the first time, Planned Parenthood spent money on mailings for two Senate Democrats facing primaries. It expects to be involved with the general election.

“It’s permissible now in a way that it wasn’t 10 years ago,” she said of the spending, adding how it’s the “only tool” advocacy groups now have to educate voters about their particular issues while encouraging them to get out and vote for certain candidates.

 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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