HARTFORD, Connecticut — TV viewers in Connecticut can expect to see more and more political ads, funded by big donors and targeting the two major-party candidates for governor as Election Day approaches.
With the contest between Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican Tom Foley expected to be close, groups known as independent expenditure-only committees are busy raising unlimited sums from wealthy contributors and political organizations to finance ads attacking or supporting the two candidates.
On Monday, Grow Connecticut Inc., a group incorporated in Delaware, began running a 30-second spot that focuses on Malloy's support for higher taxes in 2011 and what the group says is Connecticut's low ranking as a place to do business. "Connecticut can do better," a female announcer says in the ad. The Republican Governors Association has so far contributed $250,000 to Grow Connecticut. The group also lists a $25,000 contribution from former Ambassador Craig Stapleton of Greenwich, whose wife is a cousin of former President George H. W. Bush.
"There are a lot of people who are concerned about the direction of this state and regardless of what the polls may or may not say, there is a need for change in the governor's office," said Liz Kurantowicz, a former chief of staff at the Connecticut Republican Party and the treasurer of Grow Connecticut. Kurantowicz played a similar role with another independent group in 2012, Voters for Good Government, which spent money on state legislative races in Connecticut.
Records show three independent expenditure organizations have so far registered with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Besides Grow Connecticut, which is critical of Malloy, there are Connecticut Forward and Connecticut Voters for Gun Safety, which are both critical of Foley. More groups are expected to be created between now and Nov. 4. Connecticut Forward has so far incurred more than $116,000 in outstanding expenses. A message was left seeking comment with the group's treasurer.
Both Malloy and Foley are participating in the state's public campaign finance system, which allows each to receive an approximate $6.5 million grant. But under current rules, these independent groups can provide extra political ammunition by purchasing critical TV ads and direct mailers, even though they're not allowed to coordinate their activities with the political parties or the candidates.
Joshua Foley, a spokesman for the SEEC who is unrelated to Tom Foley, said his state agency issued a declaratory ruling in 2013 that determined if an outside, third-party group spends money on behalf of Connecticut candidates, it is allowed to raise unlimited sums so long as it registers with the state and discloses information such as who formed it, who is the treasurer and where the group is located. The organization must also reveal every contribution and expenditure.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause of Connecticut, a nonprofit election watchdog organization, said her group is concerned by the proliferation of independent expenditure-only organizations. She said these groups spent about $750,000 in the 2012 election and believes more will be spent in 2014.
"I think there's no reason to think they're going to spend less and I think the DGA (Democratic Governors Association) and the RGA are getting warmed up to do as much as they can," said Quickmire, adding how Common Cause believes the disclosure rules need to be stronger. She contends there are loopholes that allow some groups to form independent expenditure-only organizations to avoid revealing their donors.
"We need to know who is putting all this money in," she said. "Voters need to know clearly."
Even though candidates aren't allowed to control what these groups do, Common Cause has asked both Malloy and Foley to publicly discourage such spending. So far, Quickmire said neither candidate has yet agreed to do so. Some legislative candidates, however, have signed the so-called "People's Pledge."