In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Connecticut General Assembly created a five member bi-partisan and independent State Elections Commission (Public Act 74-213) to ensure the integrity of the state's electoral process. The Commission was given the authority to investigate possible violations of the election laws, inspect campaign finance records and reports, refer evidence of violations to the Chief State's Attorney or to the Attorney General, issue advisory opinions and make recommendations to the General Assembly concerning revisions to the state's election laws. Appointments to the Commission are divided equally amongst the Governor and the four highest ranking leaders of the General Assembly.
In its first year of operations, the Commission was given a budget of $50,000 and utilized staff loaned by the Secretary of the State, temporary and summer workers. Until April 1975, the Commission conducted its activities without the benefit of a permanent office. Since 1974, the Commission's investigative and enforcement authority has grown. It now has full subpoena power, can impound voting machines and absentee ballots, require a forfeiture of contributions or payments and impose civil penalties against violators. The Commission's enabling authority can be found in §§ 9-7a and 9-7b, General Statutes.
In 2005, public act 05-5 established the Citizens’ Election Program, giving the commission the authority to administer the most sweeping public campaign finance program in the country. The CEP provides public campaign grants to qualified candidates for Statewide offices and the General Assembly, who adhere to expenditure limits and other program requirements. With a 75% participation rate, the CEP was labeled an “unqualified success.”
The Commission is also charged with developing and implementing an electronic campaign reporting system (e-CRIS). The Commission is now the state campaign finance filing repository for all past and present campaign finance records for party committees, political committees and candidate committees organized for state elections.
The Commission currently has a permanent full time staff, with fifty-two authorized positions, headed by the Executive Director and General Counsel. More than 200 investigations are conducted each year, with sanctions imposed in approximately two-thirds of the cases. Commission staff responds to thousands of requests for oral and written advice. It regularly conducts training sessions for candidates, campaign treasurers and others concerning campaign finance requirements. The agency also produces publications to assist the public in navigating the campaign finance laws and regulations. Each year, the Commission makes recommendations to the General Assembly for revising election laws.