11/17/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Looking to Connecticut for Change

As roughly a thousand Congressional candidates file their third quarter fundraising totals this week, their chances for victory will be handicapped by the amount of money they've brought in and have left for the final weeks leading to the November 4th election.

While political insiders are focused on the more than $7 million raised this quarter for the Minnesota Senate race or the impressive$1.2 million haul by challenger Darcy Burner in the state of Washington, I was focused on news from Connecticut, when the State Election Enforcement Commission announced that 75 percent of candidates for the state legislature had qualified and received funds under the state's Clean Elections program.

This is the first cycle that Clean Elections, or full public financing of elections, is available for candidates in Connecticut and the number of participants is record breaking. Beth Rotman, director of the state's Citizens' Election program, said that the candidate participation rate in Connecticut's first cycle more than doubles that of other states where Clean Elections were enacted.

"We did a tremendous thing in Connecticut, almost eliminating special interest money," said Rotman.

Instead of dialing for dollars or attending high-priced fundraisers, candidates are free to knock on doors in Hartford or attend house parties in Durham. Candidates from diverse backgrounds are able to run for office without access to wealth or political connections.

Elizabeth Esty, the Democratic challenger in Cheshire, believes that the new system will allow more women to run for office.

"A lot of politics, at the end of the day, is about relationships between people," said Esty, "and women are very good at building relationships." In fact, 93 percent of the women running for the legislature opted into the public financing system, according to Common Cause Connecticut.

Incumbent Rep. James Spallone, a champion of Clean Elections in the legislature, is participating in the system. He told Common Cause Connecticut, "The idea of not worrying about raising money while you are trying to door knock and attend community events is just fantastic."

Elections have become races about campaign cash instead of voters and the issues that matter to them. With record-breaking campaign fundraising for Congress and the race for the presidency, the record breaking participation in Connecticut's new program of public financing shows that many politicians--as well as voters--are ready for change.