For Immediate Release: March 8, 2019
Fair Elections for New York Responds to Assembly Speaker Heastie’s Comments On Public Financing In the Budget
As Democrats In House of Representatives Pass Public Financing Bill, Fair Elections Campaign Urges Assembly To Continue Past Support
Albany, NY — In response to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s comments today about public campaign financing, the Fair Elections for New York campaign issued the following statement:
“For weeks, New Yorkers have been clamoring for a change in the way campaigns are funded in town halls, grassroots lobby visits and emails and calls to their elected officials. Historically, the Assembly Democrats have supported people-powered elections anchored with a small-donor matching system. ‘Fair elections’ is the policy that will really shake up the status quo, and thus the real test of the new Albany. Passing this legislation now, in the budget, is the best chance for New York to once again lead the nation by having a campaign finance system that gives everyday New Yorkers as loud a voice as the wealthiest donors. We hope the Speaker will reconsider and that the Speaker, Governor and Senate Majority Leader will refuse to accept a budget without ‘fair elections.’”
In response to the concerns raised by the Assembly the campaign offered the following solutions:
No Spending Limits
Unlike New York City’s campaign finance system, the current proposal in the Governor’s Executive Budget does not include spending limits for candidates who choose to participate in the small dollar match system. This provision is supported by the Fair Elections coalition and campaign finance experts. This allows candidates to continue to raise and spend private money up to Election Day if, for example, an independent expenditure committee decides to spend heavily in a statewide or legislative race.
Public financing would actually help candidates facing independent expenditures, and help with voters, who increasingly want to see candidates running on small donations. A recent report from the Campaign Finance Institute showed that every single incumbent would raise the same or more under a small donor matching system — but from a much larger percentage of small donors.
We’d be hard-pressed to find a reason not to use a small donor matching system if it were in place, but it’s worth reminding everyone that the system is completely voluntary.
Little Budget Impact
The cost of the program ($40-60 million per year) is a drop in the bucket of our $175 billion state budget. Little of this money would need to be expended in the first year. The annual costs would be minimal — less than $3 per New Yorker per year, less than a penny a day. And a system that incentivizes small donors is likely to pay for itself in rooting out the subtle yet real influence big donors have in the political process — an influence that can result in unnecessary and expensive public policy choices.
Support and Assistance for Compliance
Many have criticized the New York City Campaign Finance Board for being too punitive, rather than helping grassroots campaigns and first-time candidates comply with the rules of the system. But there is another model: in Connecticut, the State Elections Enforcement Commission is mandated to support candidates in using their small dollar matching system — no years-long audits or six-figure legal bills. That is the model advocates have urged New York State to adopt. The Governor’s proposal already addresses some of these concerns.
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.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Carl Heastie have all authored small donor matching systems proposals in the past that were consistently blocked by Republicans in the Senate. The Governor has once again included a small donor matching proposal in this year’s executive budget, and with supportive majorities now in control of both the Assembly and Senate, the path is clear to get the job done.
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 are building momentum 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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