Audit finds Lax Oversight of Public Campaign Financing

For the last nine years, the State Election Enforcement Commission has failed to report the use of grant money financing candidates running for the Connecticut General Assembly, according to a recent audit report. 

The commission is responsible for the Citizen’s Election Program, which gives grant money to campaigns for state senate or state representative through the Citizen’s Election Fund, a pool of money that comes from the sale of abandoned property. 

By law, the commission must report annually on the amount of money in the fund and the number of people who have contributed to it. The commission is also required to present an analysis each cycle to the General Assembly of the amount of grant money issued, how campaigns have spent the money, and how much leftover money was returned to the fund. 

According to the audit, the commission has not provided these reports in the years between 2009 and 2018.

In its response to the findings, the commission explained the failures as a matter of “staffing shortages and a related backlog of cases, as well as legislative changes to the docketing process and administration of the Citizens’ Election Program.”

In 2020, a campaign could receive a grant of between $3,669 and $30,575 for state representative and between $12,474.60 and $103,955 for state senator. 

Registration lists on the Committee’s website show that 335 grants were awarded for the 2018 election — 270 for state representative campaigns and 64 for state senate campaigns. That year, the Citizen’s Election Fund totaled nearly $4 million. 

Problems with oversight 

The audit also found that the commission did not adequately oversee the return of unused grant money to the Citizen’s Election Fund in the 2017 and 2018 elections. Twenty campaigns failed to return a total of $66,311 to the fund by the required deadline. 

There were also substantial delays in the post-election reviews that the commission is required to conduct on the finance reports of campaigns receiving grants.

The audit found that of 15 campaigns examined as part of its report, the commission had failed to complete reviews of five campaign finance reports for the 2016 election by its statutory deadline, two months before the 2018 election.

Without the post-election review of finances, the audit found that “the public may not be properly informed before the next election cycle.” Additionally, the commission did not ask for responses from six of the campaigns, which leaves people with “less assurance that the grants from the Citizens’ Election Fund were properly spent.” 

In response to the findings, the commission replied that 14 of the 20 candidates with leftover grant money left had returned their funds within two weeks of the deadline, and another four returned the funds over the next four months. The current unreturned surplus, the commission reported, amounts to less than $350.

The commission said it agreed with the assessment about the post-election reviews and said it said it “is working to complete these matters in a more timely manner.”

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