“Why,” Tom Foley asked in a New Haven visit Thursday, “should I write my own check?”
Foley wrote a big check four years ago—an $11 million check—to his own campaign for governor.
The Republican businessman has unofficially been running for governor again this year. This time, he said, he plans to qualify for Connecticut’s public-financing Citizens Election Program. After he qualifies, he’ll decide whether or not to go ahead and accept government money rather than finance the bulk of his campaign again out of his own pocket.
“I was not in favor the public-financing law,” Foley said. But “it’s here. It’s been changed. I think people who don’t use it now are disadvantaged.”
Foley made the remarks in a conversation outside the weekly New Haven police CompStat data-sharing meeting at 1 Union Ave. (Click on the video at the top of the story to watch excerpts of the conversation.) It was his second visit to New Haven to check in on community policing since he began unofficially running for governor again. Click here to read about an event his think tank sponsored downtown, at which he invited Chief Dean Esserman to deliver an address. (The two are pictured conversing after CompStat Thursday.)
Foley was one of a wave of wealthy business people to pour millions of dollars into campaigns for elected office in states around the country in 2010. (Another was Republican Linda McMahon, who ran for a U.S. Senate seat both in 2010 and 2012. Democrat Ned Lamont also self-financed a gubernatorial primary in 2010.) It turned out that while candidates need lots of money to win statewide office, there may be a tipping point beyond which extra millions don’t help.
Foley narrowly lost to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy in the 2010 general election. Now he’s itching for a rematch. He hasn’t formally announced his candidacy, but he has been playing the part of candidate in appearances around the state for months now. (He said he will make his formal decision on running “soon.”)
Malloy won the office in 2010 while making use of Connecticut’s voluntary public-financing system, which gave him $6 million in taxpayer dollars. The idea behind the system is to allow more kinds of candidates to run and to prevent the wealthy from dominating elections. Foley spent $13 million on the race. He spent all but $2 million of that total, raising the rest privately.
If he proceeds with an official campaign this year, Foley said, he plans to seek to raise the $250,000 in small ($5 to $100) individual contributions necessary to qualify for public-financing. He hasn’t yet decided whether then to proceed with the program, he said.
What’s different this time?
“They changed the laws,” he said. “They’ve made it harder to raise money and finance a campaign without using” public financing. “People who can contribute have been further restricted.”
When he began his 2010 campaign, he noted, the public-financing system offered qualifying gubernatorial candidates $3 million. In the midst of the campaign legislators raised the amount to $6 million. By that time, he had already been spending his own money and it was too late to qualify, for public financing, he said. (The state upped the amount because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling at that time declared unconstitutional public-financing “triggers”—under which a publicly-financed candidate gets extra money once his or her opponent spends more than a certain amount of money. While the state grant to gubernatorial candidates rose from $3 million to $6 million, the overall amount candidates could conceivably collect actually declined because of the removal of the triggers.)
Meanwhile, “most investment funds, hedge funds, and private equity firms” now fall under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation, limiting their members from being able to contribute to his campaign this time around, Foley said. So perhaps he should just take the $6 million public-financing grant, which should be enough to run a campaign, especially considering the unlimited additional money that state political committees can pour into campaigns.
He was asked how taking public campaign dollars would gibe with his philosophical principles.
He acknowledged that he philosophically opposes public financing because “it skews the system in ways I am concerned about. ... Asking taxpayers to pay for it, it’s a burden. ... The law was passed; it wasn’t passed by me. If you want to become elected in Connecticut, you pretty much have to engage in the public-financing law, or write your own check. Why should I write my own check?”
The law’s threshold—requiring candidates to raise the $250,000 in small donations to qualify for public money—does make sense, he argued.
Collecting contributions from at least 2,500 supporters “legitimately sends a message” about a campaign’s viability, he said.
Another change since Foley last ran for governor: Individuals can give up to $10,000, rather than $5,000, to party committees. Look for those committees to play a huge role this year in the ever-escalating campaign financial arms race.