Academic journal article Public Administration Research

Electoral Competition in Connecticut's State House Races: The Trial Run of the Citizens' Election Program

Academic journal article Public Administration Research

Electoral Competition in Connecticut's State House Races: The Trial Run of the Citizens' Election Program

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Citizens Election Fund, Connecticut's version of a clean elections law, was established in 2005 in the wake of the corruption scandal during the administration of Governor John Rowland. Modeled after the public financing systems of Maine and Arizona, Connecticut's law has been touted as the most comprehensive in the nation. Scholars have hypothesized that states with public funding of campaigns have more competitive elections (Werner & Mayer, 2007). This paper will address whether the introduction of the Citizens' Election Program has increased the level of electoral competition by specifically focusing on state house seats in Connecticut during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. Contestation for seats in the Connecticut General Assembly is a particularly salient issue due to the fact that many seats typically go unchallenged and as Mayer (2007) observed "a seat in the Connecticut House or Senate had become one of the safest offices anywhere, approaching if not exceeding the security of membership in the U.S. Congress." The findings suggest that the hypothesized positive relationship between public financing and electoral competition show mixed results. After the introduction of the Citizens' Election Program, the number of uncontested seats decreased slightly with more challengers emerging to contest incumbents in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. While some positive effects are seen by the 2010 election cycle with the margin of votes cast for winners narrowing in 41% of house races, the vast majority of house incumbents continue to win and do so by larger vote margins. Finally, the overall reelection rate for incumbents remained largely unchanged. Further research with a longer time horizon that is inclusive of more state house elections will have to be conducted before any firmer conclusions can be drawn regarding the efficacy of the Citizens' Election Program.

Keywords: Citizens' Election Program, public financing, election campaigns, state government, electoral competition

1. Introduction

1.1

The year 2004 was a tumultuous one in Connecticut state government. Revelations of graft and corruption led to the resignation of Governor John Rowland. In the wake of the scandal, the Connecticut General Assembly adopted the most comprehensive public election finance system in the country. While Maine and Arizona's clean election laws predated that of Connecticut's by several years, Connecticut's program was the most sweeping in terms of its scope. Unlike its counterparts in other states whose clean election laws provided partial funding for select public offices, Connecticut's law established full financing for all state offices (Nyart, 2006). In addition, Connecticut was also the only state to adopt the law via the legislative process whereas Maine and Arizona had enacted their programs through a ballot initiative. Sensing the public outrage and appetite for reform, state legislators prepared to tackle the issue directly.

The moniker "clean elections" has been applied to public funding of campaigns since its inception in Arizona in 2000. (Note 1) Among the ascribed benefits of public funding for election campaigns are: lowering the barriers to entry for emergent candidates, broadening the pool of candidates in terms of ideological and geographic diversity, reducing the incumbency advantage, and controlling campaign costs (Mayer, Werner, & Williams, 2005). Relative newcomers to the political process who would ordinarily have a difficult time raising funds and might otherwise be discouraged from running would now have the necessary financial support to mount a viable campaign against an incumbent. Critics, on the other hand, deride public financing as little more than an incumbent protection act arguing that it does little more than to solidify the advantage of incumbents and effectively handicap challengers who must abide by set spending levels (Fahle, 2009).

1.2

Clean elections laws have been heralded by proponents as a panacea for a variety of ills including government corruption and lethargic electoral competition. …

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