For Immediate Release: September 5, 2019
30 Years, Few Changes:
New Report Finds Wealthy and Powerful Still Dominate Albany Giving — Public Financing of Elections is Best Fix
Public Campaign Financing Commission Offers Opportunity to Finally Lessen the Influence of Big Money in State Politics, Reduce Corruption, and Energize Voters
Fair Elections for New York Ramps Up Campaign to Pressure Commission and Legislature to Deliver “Model for the Nation” Program
ALBANY, NY — A report released today by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) reviewed New York’s campaign financing system and found little has changed when it comes to who funds elections since the 1980s when then-Governor Mario Cuomo established a special Moreland Commission to review the state’s system in light of corruption scandals. That Commission, the Commission on Government Integrity, called New York’s campaign finance system a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment.” In its final report, the Commission scolded state leaders for failing to act, “Instead partisan, personal and vested interests have been allowed to come before larger public interests.”
The NYPIRG report reviewed the sources of campaign financing for the winners of the 2018 state legislative elections, compared it to a similar analysis conducted in the 1980s and arrived at the same conclusion; wealthy and powerful interests provide the overwhelming bulk of campaign dollars to elective winners, with over 90 percent coming from PACs, LLCs, corporations, unions, and significant contributions from individuals.
The report called for action on a key reform, public financing of elections, which has been denied for three decades, despite calls from numerous blue ribbon commissions, academics, advocates, and lawmakers. The report argued that an alternative to private campaign contributions will reduce the influence of powerful interests, minimize the corruption risk posed by those donations, and amplify the voices of average New Yorkers.
In response, the Fair Elections for New York campaign launched a vigorous public campaign from Brookhaven to Buffalo to ensure that the Public Campaign Financing Commission established in this year’s budget would finally fix New York’s campaign finance system by creating a small-donor matching system to ensure that constituents’ voices are heard as loudly as big donors’.
The report, “Capital Inve$tments,” reviewed the work of both Governor Mario Cuomo’s commission and a similar commission established by Governor Andrew Cuomo five years ago and undertook an analysis of fundraising for the recent state legislative campaigns. It found the source of campaign contributions to winning legislative candidates continues to overwhelmingly be comprised of organized special interests like political action committees, businesses and large individual donors. In the 2018 election cycle, 90 percent of campaign dollars originated with PACs, LLCs, corporations, unions, and significant contributions from individuals (contributions that exceeded $200).
“For decades experts have urged action to develop an alternative to New York’s ‘pay-to-play’ campaign financing structure. Our report shows that despite these views and the seemingly unending campaign financing controversies and scandals, state legislative winners still rely heavily on campaign contributions from those who too often have business before them. It’s time to time to change a system that relies on big bucks from the wealthy few to one that relies on small contributions from average New Yorkers. We hope this report will focus all of the state on the important work of the Commission,” said Blair Horner Executive Director of NYPIRG.
The Fair Elections for New York Campaign, which is comprised of over 200 groups, helped put the issue on the legislative agenda earlier this year, when the Legislature and the Governor formed a commission to establish a public financing program to make New York’s democracy work for everyone, not just the powerful few. While the report was being released in Albany, campaign members launched efforts in state legislative districts from Long Island to Buffalo to educate constituents on the importance of public financing of elections, encourage New Yorkers to testify before the Commission, and urge state legislators to weigh in with the Commission and be prepared to act in December should the Commission fall short.
The campaign members are calling for the program to include at least a 6-to-1 match on small donations for both primary and general elections, an independent enforcement unit, and lower contribution limits —without focusing on irrelevant political distractions like attempting to eliminate fusion voting.
As the campaign’s new countdown clock shows, the Commission now has less than 90 days to issue final binding recommendations on December 1st. The Legislature will then have a short window to amend the recommendations before they become law.
“The report has confirmed what many of us have known for a long time, New York’s political system unfairly favors those with large amounts of wealth. The answer has been clear for decades. Our supporters plan to hold the commissioners and the leaders who appointment them accountable so they can deliver a model program for the nation to lessen the influence of big money and give power back to constituents,” said Laura Friedenbach, Deputy Campaign Manager for the Fair Elections for New York campaign.
“More and more we are seeing social movements calling for political change across our state and country. Many of these efforts have historically been held back by the overwhelming influence and control of money in politics. We call on the commission to pave the way to transform society by ensuring a strong system of public financing,” said Rosemary Rivera, Co-Executive Director at Citizen Action of New York.
“For too long the voices of marginalized New Yorkers have been muted by the influence of corporate dollars. How can we combat years of racist laws and policies when we have a donor class that is 90 percent wealthy, white, and male? We must hold the Commission and the Legislature accountable, we will not accept anything less than our call for a strong people-powered small donor public financing program. With a Legislature no longer beholden to corporations and special interests, there will be less room in the budget for tax loopholes and more room for critical local needs like schools, housing, jobs, senior, and youth programs,” said Jawanza James Williams, Director of Organizing at VOCAL-NY.
“The report issued by NYPIRG today and endorsed by Reinvent Albany illuminates once again that special interests have long dominated political giving in New York State, skewing public policy and increasing corruption risk,” said Alex Camarda, Senior Policy Advisor at Reinvent Albany. “But the Public Financing Commission and the state’s leaders can make history by delivering the solution that has eluded Albany for decades: a strong public financing system.”
“The sweeping successes of the 2019 legislative session were made possible by years of progressive advocacy and a blue wave of activism that helped topple the IDC and deliver a true Democratic Trifecta for New York. This mobilization of New Yorkers was built on the conviction that in the wake of Trump’s election, New York must become a progressive leader for the country and that the special interest influence and corruption that has plagued our state for years must be eliminated. Ultimately, the legacy of this legislature will be measured in their ability to deliver the structural changes to our representative Democracy that fulfill that promise. Which is why we call upon our elected officials to hold the Public Financing commission they appointed accountable, and to deliver the small-donor matched public financing system New Yorkers deserve,” said Ricky Silver, co-lead at Empire State Indivisible.
“The corruption resulting from big political donations in New York state politics has created deep cynicism and distrust in government among young people. The Commission must use its mandate to create a robust small dollar public financing law for New York. Only this will restore trust and convince young people that government can work for them, and that they have a voice in Albany,” said Joan D. Mandle, Ph.D. Executive Director, Democracy Matters and Sydney Morris, Democracy Matters student, University at Albany.
For detailed report findings, please see the full report here.
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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