For Immediate Release: July 15, 2019
Fair Elections Campaign Releases Recommendations to Make Public Financing Commission’s Work Transparent — and Successful
ALBANY – The Fair Elections Campaign released today key recommendations sent to the Governor, legislative leaders and members of the Public Financing of Elections Commission on how to make sure the Commission’s work is transparent, independent, heeds expert advice, offers real opportunities for public input, and results in a strong system of public campaign finance in New York.
Rosemary Rivera, Co-Executive Director of Citizen Action of NY, on behalf of the Fair Elections campaign: “The Public Financing Commission has lots of work to do, and less than five months to do it. We want a real public process without political interference, so that the People, statewide, can weigh in meaningfully on the creation of a system that will finally transform the way Albany works. We need a campaign finance system that will consistently put everyday people, not the wealthy and well connected, at the center of decisions that directly affect our lives. We know what a good system is and so does every New Yorker. It’s one that puts their small donations to work and stops the onslaught of big corporate donors. There is no doubt that this Commission can, and indeed must, create the model for the nation we’ve been promised.”
The full text of the recommendations is as follows:
July 15, 2019
Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins
Members of the Public Financing of Elections Commission
Dear Governor Cuomo, Majority Leaders Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Heastie, and Members of the Public Financing of Elections Commission:
Congratulations on the many significant victories for all New Yorkers during the 2019 legislative session, and for now seating the Public Financing Commission.
This year, New York has a chance to lead the nation in creating a campaign finance system that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few, at a critical time when democracy reforms occupy a central position in our national political conversation. As the Brennan Center for Justice’s report, The Case for Small Donor Public Financing in New York, explains, “Small donor public financing is the most powerful, proven solution available to counter the overwhelming influence of wealth on our political process in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, which gave the green light to unlimited special interest spending.” Critically, small donor matching will also help diversify a donor class that is currently largely wealthy, white, and male. The Fair Elections for New York campaign, supported by over 200 groups across New York, writes to share the following broad recommendations for the Public Financing of Elections Commission process and final policy determinations.
Time is short for the Commission to get to work, yet thankfully the Commission is lucky to have many of the nation’s top public campaign financing experts right here in New York and decades of experience with New York City’s groundbreaking small donor matching program to draw from. Rather than starting from scratch, decades of work has lead to consensus among experts on many of the key recommendations for a successful small donor public financing program in New York.
Public Financing of Elections Commission Process
The Public Financing of Elections Commission should be independent in its deliberations, be transparent, rely on public financing experts and public testimony, and provide ample opportunity for meaningful public input. Specifically, the Commission should:
On Independence & Reliance on Experts
- Rely on public financing experts and public testimony to craft its recommendations consistent with the statutory goals of “incentivizing candidates to solicit small contributions, reducing the pressure on candidates to spend inordinate amounts of time raising large contributions for their campaigns, and encouraging qualified candidates to run for office.”
- Be provided sufficient budget to independently hire staff; conduct hearings and deliberations; draft and publish reports and other materials; communicate with the public; and otherwise operate effectively in order to fulfill its mandate. Heavy-handed interference from elected officials should be impermissible.
- Issue an interim report no later than September 30 (final is due under the law by December 1) to update the public on Commission progress.
- Host a webpage and post online all meeting minutes, as well as testimony and materials submitted to the Commission.
- Hold public meetings, including via webcast.
On Providing Opportunities for Meaningful Input
- Hold four hearings, as the law allows, rather than just the one that the law requires. The Fair Elections campaign recommends New York City, Albany, Syracuse, and one online hearing (e.g., via Facebook Live), which allows the public to participate and interact with the Commission in real-time.
- Provide a link on the Commission webpage to enable the public to submit comments digitally.
The Fair Elections campaign is confident the above best practices increase the chances that the Public Financing of Elections Commission will recommend the best possible statewide program to amplify the voices of all New Yorkers and enable qualified candidates to participate and run competitive campaigns.
Critical Final Policy Guideposts
Strong final Commission recommendations should focus solely on creating a successful public financing program and relevant campaign finance reforms that encourage broad participation. The following expert-back priorities have been proven essential and must be included:
- Provide at least a 6-to-1 match on small donations, to ensure that participating candidates are able to raise significant sums from small donors.
- Set qualifying thresholds that are attainable by viable candidates with community support but avoid wasting public funds on frivolous candidates.
- Require participating candidates to agree to lower contribution limits that incentivize fundraising from small donors but are not so low that participating candidates are unable to compete with non-participating candidates.
- Set lower contribution limits for non-participating candidates, so that the gap between participants and non-participants is not so large as to discourage participation in public financing.
- Set a cap on public funds that can be used for each office at amounts adequate to enable competitive campaigns but not so high as to risk depleting the state’s reserves.
- Establish a candidate services and oversight unit separate from the State Board of Elections — one that will guard against fraud but will also support candidates and not be overly punitive.
- Cover all statewide, state legislative, and district attorney races, for both primary and general elections.
HR 1, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives with every single Democrat in support, should be a shining example. New York should do no less in terms of policy and can be first in terms of creating actual law. We look forward to working with you this year to create a small donor public financing system in New York that is a model for the nation.
Fair Elections for New York Campaign
The Fair Elections for New York campaign includes over 200 community, labor, tenant, immigrant, racial justice, environment, faith, good government, and grassroots resistance organizations who came together to ensure comprehensive campaign finance reform, including small donor public financing, was included in this year’s state budget. The campaign plans to hold leaders accountable to their commitment in the budget to deliver Fair Elections reforms this year. Learn more at FairElectionsNY.org
New Yorkers deserve a responsive, accountable government. Voter turnout in New York is among the lowest in the nation, due in part to antiquated procedures for registration and voting that discourage participation. And our campaign finance system favors the wealthy over everyday, working New Yorkers. To tackle the crises we face in housing, living wage jobs, criminal justice, affordable health care, transportation, climate, fair taxes, and more, we must transform a campaign finance system that advantages the interests of the few over those of the many.
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