State Sen. Steve Cassano, the Democratic incumbent for the 4th Connecticut Senate district representing Manchester, Glastonbury, Bolton and Marlborough, says a slew of last minute campaign ads bashing him and his policies funded by a Fairfield-based super-PAC less than a week before the election aims to "buy" the senate seat for his Republican opponent, Cheri Ann Pelletier.
According to the campaign expenditure filings on the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission's website, Voters for Good Government Inc., a political action committee set up as a corporation, has spent more than $136,000 in ads either attacking Cassano or endorsing Pelletier over the past 10 days.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, corporations or unions are allowed to spend unlimitedly to either endorse or oppose a candidate, so Voters for Good Government's expenditures are currently not against any election laws or rules as they stand.
But Cassano says this unfettered political spending by an outside corporation is unfair to a local candidate with limited resources and runs contrary to the idea of democracy that America's Founding Fathers intended. Cassano and Pelletier have both opted to qualify for funding under Connecticut's Citizens' Election Program, which grants candidates state funding once they reach a certain threshold of private political contributions. To qualify for $91,290 in state funding under the program, Cassano and Pelletier each had to raise $15,000 in individual contributions no larger than $2,000.
"We put this program in place in this state precisely to prevent this kind of thing," Cassano said. "This is not the type of democracy that I think Thomas Jefferson or anyone else thought about when they created this nation."
On its website, Voters for Good Government says it was created to "promote policies and candidates who will restore fiscal sanity and promote job growth during these difficult economic times." Filings with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission list Thomas Peterffy, a Greenwich-based billionaire, as the sole donor to Voters for Good Government. Peterffy is the founder and CEO of Interactive Brokers Group Inc., an online brokerage firm, and Forbes lists him 77 on its list of richest Americans.
Petterfy told Bloomberg News in an email late last month that he did not know Cassano and was not targeting him intentionally, but that it was important for Republicans to take back control of the Connecticut legislature. Cassano, a former longtime mayor of Manchester, won the seat in 2010 by a slim margin.
“This policy is not logical, it does not work in the interest of the state and we’ll need a Republican state Senate to reverse it along with other issues, but it will be difficult,” Peterffy wrote in an email to Bloomberg News, noting that politics can be cruel.
For her part, Pelletier, a member of the Manchester Board of Directors, also says she has never met Peterffy and had no idea the ads were coming in support of her as well - until she turned on the TV one day and saw a picture of her and her family.
"I have no say over this. I didn't invite Mr. Peterffy into my campaign, and I have no say over it," Pelletier told Patch. "I think I'm the more disenfranchised party here, in some respect. Everybody thinks this is for my benefit."
Pelletier noted that Cassano has also accepted outside political contributions during his campaigns.
"I just find it a little ddisingenuous and hypocritical when he's engaged in the same thing," she said.
But Cassano said that his campaign this year has only received $10,000 from a Democratic senate political action committee, a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the money that Voters for Good Government is spending to influence the race.
Both Cassano and Pelletier told Patch that they were confident that once voters of the 4th district looked at their records they would decide which of the two candidates best supported their interests.
One thing is for certain, though, come Election Day, voters will be the ones who decide the outcome of this race - with or without the help of any outside parties.