Both Jon Pelto, now in the process of collecting signatures that would allow him to appear on the November general election ballot as a gubernatorial candidate, and Joe Visconti, who has declined to accept public funds to finance his campaign, likely would be put off by the term “fringe candidate” as applied to them. But there you are: A candidate for high office who has not been chosen by the Democratic or Republican Party nominating conventions and who, for strategic purposes, has decided to forgo a primary falls necessarily into that categorical box. Campaign party reforms have made fringe candidacies not only possible but likely.
Fringe candidates are both a curse and a blessing. Connecticut owes its prosperity destroying income tax to the fringe candidacy of former Governor Lowell Weicker. Mr. Visconti was nudged into his candidacy by a concern for an eroding second amendment and Governor Dannel Malloy’s curt dismissal, as Mr. Visconti understands it, of the constitutional rights of lawful gun owners. Mr. Pelto is chiefly concerned with educational matters, maintaining teacher union privileges and – though he has not put it in such bald terms – readjusting marginal taxation so that a surfeit of wealthy people in Connecticut will pay more of their “fair share” than is presently the case under the relatively flat Weicker income tax. Mr. Pelto and Mr. Visconti, both of whom also oppose Common Core, feel these points would not be articulated properly by convention gubernatorial nominees Dannel Malloy and Tom Foley.
Then too, fringe candidates also have money problems. The tributaries that supply campaign coffers with cash, the mother’s milk of politics, do not normally flow in the direction of fringe candidates. Fortunately for many of them – and as unfortunately for candidates nominated to carry party banners into general elections – a new money tap has been opened through campaign finance reforms for both party irregulars and candidates who cannot independently raise sufficient funds to finance their insurgencies.
A gubernatorial candidate has only to raise $250,000 in small donations to qualify for public financing; once the magic number has been reached, tax funds begin to water the campaign gardens of indigent candidates. Those who can afford to pay their own way still may do so. But a sufficiency of private campaign cash is no surety of election to office. The Republican Party nominated former WWE CEO Linda McMahon as its choice the U.S. Senate in 2010. Mrs. McMahon paid her own way to the tune of approximately $50 million and yet lost the race to Dick Blumenthal, whose campaign was able to overcome a major hurdle: Mr. Blumenthal – like Mrs. McMahon, independently wealthy -- claimed several times on the campaign trail that he had served in the Marine Corp in Vietnam when, in fact, he served state-side during the Vietnam War delivering toys to poor children in Washington D.C.
Mr. Pelto hopes to raise a sufficient number of donations to qualify for public tax money to continue his assaults on the Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee.
He is not alone. When candidate for governor John McKinney fell short of primary qualifying ballots at the Republican nominating convention, floor handlers for other campaigns found enough votes to prop up Mr. McKinney. Suspicions were immediately aroused. Had the gubernatorial nominee of the convention, former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, arranged through floor handlers to shift votes on a second ballot to Mr. McKinney so as to assure a three-way primary between himself, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Mr. McKinney?
Mr. Boughton earned the requisite number of convention votes to qualify for a primary, but his running mate, Groton Town Councilor Heather Bond Somers, having garnered a sufficient number of convention votes to qualify for the Lieutenant Governor slot, abruptly detached herself from the Boughton-Somers team, leaving Mr. Boughton without sufficient funds to qualify for public campaign dollars. In a re-pairing, Mr. Boughton hitched up with Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and Mr. McKinney joined hands with former United States Comptroller General David Walker, the founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative. Connecticut campaign regulations allow prospective governors and lieutenant governors to pair campaign donations so that both members of the team will qualify for public funding. There are presently four Republican candidates running for Lieutenant Governor: State representative Penny Bacciocchi and Ms. Bond Somers, both running independently, and Mr. Lauretti and Mr. Walker, who have pledged their troth to Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Boughton and McKinney.
The possibility of primaries and election reforms that allow candidates to tap into public funding have made fringe candidates of all politicians other than those selected for public office by nominating conventions. The public financing rules governing fund raising for independent candidates are, since they had been written by incumbents who understandably wish to avoid messy challenges, stiffer than usual: Independent candidates are required to gather a larger number of signatures for ballot access to obtain public funding. Mr. Pelto, for instance, would need to collect about 110,000 verified signatures, not an impossibility but a venture not yet attempted.
Then too, some candidates are more “fringey” than others. Major unions, the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut and the United Auto Workers Region 9A, have abandoned the Pelto ship; gun rights advocates appear to be taking a long and serious second look at the candidacy of Mr. Foley. Among major party outliers, Tea Party activists among Republicans and arch progressives among Democrats are both wild cards.