Two of the top Democratic contenders for governor are bristling at a state party directive that candidates help shoulder the cost of the upcoming nominating convention.
The campaigns of Joe Ganim and Susan Bysiewicz say party officials sprung the cost on the candidates with less than two weeks to go until the Democratic conclave in Hartford.
A Sunday memo obtained by The Courant estimated the convention’s overall cost at $120,000 and directed each gubernatorial candidate to pay his or her $6,500 share by May 14.
Candidates for the other statewide offices such as state treasurer and state attorney general are being told they must pay $3,500 each.
“It’s certainly no way to run a convention,” said Ganim, mayor of the state’s largest city, Bridgeport. “To drop this on us and other candidates is just ridiculous. It makes no sense.”
Both Ganim and Bysiewicz’s campaign sought to contrast their finances with that of wealthy Greenwich cable television entrepreneur Ned Lamont, who many Democrats view as the front-runner going into the May 18-19 convention.
“If he wants to bankroll the state party in order to gain the nomination, maybe he wants to do that,” Ganim said.
Lamont, who spent $26 million running for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and for governor in 2010, declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
Joe Fox, a senior adviser to Bysiewicz, the former secretary of the state, echoed Ganim’s concerns.
“For self-funding candidates who are planning to spend $10 million in the primary, $6,500 does not even merit its own line item,” Fox said. “But for candidates who are participating in the clean elections program this is a large amount of money, and it would have been helpful to know that this request was going to come months ago rather than just hearing about it over the weekend.”
Sean Connolly, a former state Commissioner of Veterans Affairs who is also a candidate, also questioned charging candidates for the convention.
State Democratic Chairman Nick Balletto said asking candidates to absorb a portion of convention costs is consistent with past practice.
“Our attorneys advised us that we had to charge the candidates,” Balletto said. “It has always been that the candidates have chipped in or reimbursed the party.”
Balletto said the party isn’t out to make a profit.
“No matter how you work it out, the party will not be whole after the convention,” Balletto said.
As a participant in the Citizens’ Election Program, Bysiewicz must raise $250,000 in increments of no more than $100 per contributor to get $1.2 million for the primary.
Ganim is not eligible for public campaign financing because of his conviction and imprisonment for public corruption during his first mayoral stint. He is also not bound by contribution caps, so he can raise up to $3,500 per person. He raised more than $500,000 as of March 31.
Democrats will hold their nominating contest at the Connecticut Convention Center in Harford, with the candidate who gets 50 percent of the vote plus one earning the party’s endorsement for governor.
Any candidate who musters at least 15 percent of the convention vote — there are 1,927 delegates — will automatically qualify for the party’s August primary.
Ganim, who is conducting a petition drive in case he doesn’t reach the 15 percent, said the state party could be running afoul of campaign finance laws by charging candidates.
State Elections Enforcement Commission spokesman Joshua Foley said he couldn’t comment on the matter, but said generally speaking that there are clear rules applying to candidate expenditures.
Balletto said the candidate payments to the party for convention costs do not constitute a contribution and that their campaigns would be receiving itemized invoices.
In contrast, Republicans aren’t charging candidates to take part in their convention this Friday and Saturday at Foxwoods Resort Casino.