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At a recent Brennan Center event, panelists offered a variety of valuable perspectives on the urgent need for New York State to adopt public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform.
Professor Michael Malbin, Executive Director of the Campaign Finance Institute, presented new data supporting an increase in small donor participation in New York State elections. If the state adopts New York City’s model of public campaign financing, Malbin predicted a ninefold increase in the percentage of funds generated by people donating less than $175.
Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State conference, explained why campaign finance reform is a civil rights issue. Dr. Dukes observed that politicians who represent minority districts are forced to raise money out-of-district to remain financially competitive under our current system. This, she said, means that minority communities do not get the representation they deserve.
Lisa Genn, an attorney in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, moderated the panel and also presented maps illustrating data provided by Professor Malbin and the Campaign Finance Institute. These maps demonstrated that the large donors who dominate the current campaign finance system live in a small collection of predominantly white and wealthy neighborhoods. By contrast, small donors — whose participation is encouraged and amplified by New York City’s multiple match public financing system — live in every neighborhood in the city. This suggests the ability of public financing to empower underrepresented communities.
Michael J. Petro, Executive Vice President of the Committee for Economic Development, described the widespread business support for public financing and campaign finance reform. He explained how public financing promotes competition, and allows elected officials to focus on good public policy — which is good for the economy, and good for business.
Professor Zephyr Teachout of Fordham University School of Law concluded with a passionate address about her own experiences exploring a run for Congress in 2005. She explained how fundraising affects the thinking of even the best-intentioned politicians and advocates. In order to demonstrate viability, every candidate must attract large contributors, whose concerns are very different than those of potential constituents. Teachout argued that public financing that matches small contributions — as currently proposed for New York State — would have allowed her instead to appeal to a much broader spectrum of donors to launch a run for office.
Many constituencies are fighting for public campaign financing in New York State. These panelists added their voices to a chorus of citizens that includes leaders from New York’s civil rights, business, labor, religious, academic, and reform communities. As they forcefully concluded, it is time for the legislature to act.