Press Release

For Immediate Release: April 18, 2019



Tuesday, April 16 — In launching phase two of the Fair Elections for New York campaign, members called on leaders in Albany to ensure the passage of strong public financing of elections legislation this year, by Commission or via legislation. The groups raised concerns that the new commission established in the budget to address public financing of elections could fall short, and pledged not to let lawmakers off the hook for delivering on their promises.

In addition to calling on the Legislature to pass strong legislation by the end of the year, the campaign called on the Governor and Legislature to abide by a number of critical parameters in forming the Commission and appointing its members:

Model Parameters for Public Financing and Election Commission

  1. Seat the Commission within six weeks.
  2. Commit to maximum transparency, including holding numerous public hearings around the state, webcasting its proceedings, and allowing for online public comment.
  3. Issue a draft report by September 15, to give the public a sense of the direction of the Commission.
  4. Avoid undermining the credibility of Commission by taking on issues, like fusion voting, with almost no relevance to public financing of elections.
  5. The Commission should be given a small budget to hire its own staff, including an Executive Director, to ensure its independence. The Executive Director should be subject to the same qualifications (below) as Commissioners.
  6. Ensure that all parameters are set with the goal of establishing the most equitable system possible, meaning that the model would substantially increase levels of participation across race, gender, and class.

Necessary Qualifications for Commissioners

  1. As a body, the Commission should be diverse along at least the following lines: race, gender, socio-economic and geographic.
  2. Individuals should have an established reputation in support of public financing of elections (and for sitting state legislators, only those who supported passing a full public financing law in the 2019 budget process); and
  3. Professional and/or academic experience in:
  • election or campaign finance administration

  • consulting for campaigns or election administration agencies

  • advocacy on democracy issues

  • law or public policy on democracy issues in state or city government

  • fundraising for political candidates or political causes

  • serving as an elected or public official

Rosemary Rivera, Co-Executive Director, Citizen Action of New York: “We intend to take the Commission process seriously, because it’s likely going to happen and we can’t leave the results to chance. Who sits on it, and how it functions, will signal how serious our elected leaders are about achieving real reform. We’re also demanding legislation this year, to be ready to override or fix any shortcomings of the Commission result. For legislators saying they want to legislate, this is their chance. Given the number of things that could go wrong with this unelected body, including commissioners who are not committed to real reform, political attacks on movement allies, legal challenges, or failing to muster votes for critical measures, it is too risky to rely on the commission alone. Elected officials should start now on legislation. Whatever the process, our communities won’t tolerate a weak law that fails to change the big money status quo in Albany.”  

Bob Master, Political Director, CWA District 1: “It’s no secret that deep-pocketed corporations and the wealthy have long had an outsized influence in New York politics. The system is rigged against working people and their voices. But this year, we finally have a chance to push back. With a strong small donor matching system, Albany can ensure a truly democratic process that gives hard-working New Yorkers a meaningful say.”

John Kaehny, Executive Director, Reinvent Albany: “Governor Cuomo, Speaker Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins must show they are serious about establishing a meaningful public financing program in New York State by choosing commission members who truly support that goal, have expertise in this area, and reflect the broad diversity of the state,” said. The legislature must also advance public financing legislation, thereby informing the commission’s work and providing a backstop should the commission fail to establish a robust public matching system.”

The campaign noted that the powerful grassroots actions to encourage the creation of a Fair Elections system during budget process will continue until that system is created, either by legislative action or the Commission. More organizations continue to join the effort, and direct actions, phonebanks and door-to-door canvasses, and social media contacts will remain at the center of a strong, public campaign to minimize the influence of big money in New York’s political system.

Groups organizing around other big issues before the legislature this year like rent regulations, marijuana legalization, criminal justice reform, single-payer health care, and fighting climate change, joined Fair Elections for New York to call for the passage of strong small donor public financing this year. Their support signifies the degree to which big money in politics has blocked real progress on the most important civil and human rights issues of our day.

Adrien Salazar, Campaign Strategist for Climate Equity, Dēmos: “Across the country, the fossil fuel industry is mobilizing tens of millions of dollars to influence politics and stop real solutions to climate change. People of color bear the brunt of climate impacts, and are also systematically excluded from political processes. New York has a chance to lead the nation on tackling climate change and ensuring everyone has an equal say in our democracy. Reducing the influence of wealthy interests and big polluters is part of the path to a renewable energy future. It’s time for leaders in Albany to stop big money from dominating our state elections and to deliver on their promise to pass a strong small donor matching program to give the people a say in our state’s future.”

Jonathan Westin, Executive Director, New York Communities for Change: “As long as our leaders in Albany are dependent on real estate and landlord money to get reelected, tenants will always face an uphill battle to have their voices heard. It’s time to get Albany working for everyday New Yorkers, instead of the primarily wealthy, white, and male donors that currently hold the most sway. We’re counting on our leaders in Albany to use the last two months of session to pass a strong small-donor matching system that will amplify the voices of underrepresented New Yorkers including tenants, people of color, and women.”

Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director, Drug Policy Alliance: “The power of monied interests to influence politics in Albany is the single biggest reason marijuana is not yet legal in New York State. It’s why communities of color won’t see the economic benefits of legalization yet, and why people will continue to be arrested or plagued with past convictions for something we all agree should legal. Without small donor public financing of elections, big money will continue to rule in Albany.”

Katie Robbins, Director, Campaign for New York Health: “Right now, profit-driven corporate interests hold far too much power in Albany and have gotten away with blocking progress towards creating a universal healthcare system that works for all New Yorkers. If we want healthcare that works for people, we need a democracy that’s accountable to the people. Small donor public financing would ensure all kinds of New Yorkers are heard in Albany, not just those writing big checks.”

The Campaign said for the resulting public financing system, which will cover Assembly, Senate, and statewide candidates, to be considered a success, it must be available for both primary and general elections; have independent enforcement; include sufficient public funding for all candidates to run viable campaigns with significantly less reliance upon big donations that is currently the case; and have lower outside contribution limits, eventually.


Big donors dominate New York’s elections. A recent analysis by the Brennan Center shows that just 100 people donated more to candidates in 2018 than all 137,000 estimated small donors combined. That analysis also showed that over 90% of donations came from just three of New York State’s wealthiest counties, Nassau, Westchester, and New York County, all of which are predominantly white. Research also shows that across the country, industry donors tend to back white candidates, making it exponentially harder for candidates of color to successfully run for office. Thus both the priorities and the people are chosen by a small, elite, white, and male donor class. For true Democracy to have a chance, this must end.

The Governor and Legislature missed an opportunity to pass a statewide public financing program in the New York State budget when they had the chance, despite strong past commitments from the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker. In the past, each of these leaders authored small donor matching system proposals to give everyday New Yorkers a voice in the political process by matching small donations with public money. These proposals were consistently blocked by Republicans in the Senate. Majorities in each house are on the record in support of public financing of elections.

There is now a law on the books that specifically states, “The state shall establish a system of voluntary public campaign financing for statewide and state legislative public offices,” and authorizes up to $100 million annually to run that program [pgs 196-8]. The law also calls for the creation of a commission, which must issue binding recommendations, by December 1, to fill in the critical details. The nine-member commission shall be appointed as follows: two each from the Governor, Speaker and Majority Leader, as well as one they must collectively agree upon; one each from the minority leaders in each house. As Jessica Wisneski of Citizen Action noted in the New York Times, “It’s possible the commission could create a successful program, or it could be a cynical attempt to kill reform.”

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 pass comprehensive campaign finance reform, including small donor public financing, in this year’s budget.


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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