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New York Times
Frustrated with Albany’s tepid reaction to the idea of publicly financed elections, the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and his fiancé are financing a new campaign to press the issue in coordination with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Mr. Hughes’s fiancé, Sean Eldridge, an investor and political activist who is spearheading the effort, said the group would work with Mr. Cuomo’s office in the same way that gay rights advocates teamed up with the governor last year to persuade Republican lawmakers to support same-sex marriage. The group has also enlisted two former Cuomo aides to help plot its strategy.
As with same-sex marriage, the bulk of the resistance to public financing has come from the Republican-controlled State Senate, and the new group is planning to get involved in a number of Senate races this fall.
“The ultimate goal is we need to create a majority for reform in the Senate,” Mr. Eldridge, a former political director for the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said. He added, “People are waking up every single morning and seeing another story about money flooding into politics, so we think there’s really a unique opportunity here.”
The campaign, Protect Our Democracy, will include a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group and a political action committee. Mr. Hughes, who is now publisher of The New Republic, and Mr. Eldridge, who will run the campaign, are seeding the political action committee with $250,000. A number of other wealthy individuals have also pledged their support, including Barry Diller, the chairman of the Internet company IAC.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, encouraged the idea of publicly financed elections in his State of the State address in January, and a group of wealthy campaign donors — including Mr. Hughes and Mr. Eldridge — formed a coalition this year to press for the measure. But with Senate Republicans wary of antagonizing conservative voters in an election year, the issue gained little traction in the legislative session.
Opponents of public financing have questioned its cost, and incumbent lawmakers can be averse to changing a campaign finance system that benefits those who already hold office.
A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, Josh Vlasto, said the governor planned to coordinate with the new group, which will be announced on Monday.
“We’ve shown the effectiveness of this approach in the past with marriage equality, where outside groups ran a public education campaign, which helped the effort succeed,” Mr. Vlasto said in an e-mail.
The new effort includes several people with close ties to Mr. Cuomo as well as to the push to legalize same-sex marriage. Steven M. Cohen, a lawyer who was Mr. Cuomo’s top aide in the governor’s office and who coordinated the administration’s marriage campaign, is advising Mr. Eldridge and will be part of the group on a volunteer basis.
“The template for how marriage got passed won’t work for every issue,” Mr. Cohen said, “but on issues where you need to move opinion in Albany and generate public support in a world in which perceptions are very fluid, this is a game plan that works.”
The new group has enlisted Bill Smith, a political consultant who coordinated thesuccessful drive to help defeat three New York state senators who had voted against same-sex marriage in 2009. Mr. Smith’s firm, Civitas Public Affairs Group, recently hired one of Mr. Cuomo’s aides, Katherine A. Grainger, a lawyer who worked on the Marriage Equality Act. Ms. Grainger will be involved in the campaign-finance campaign as well.
Protect Our Democracy will seek lower limits on political donations, greater transparency and regulatory enforcement, and a system of public financing for state elections modeled after the one that is used in New York City. Government reform groups have pressed similar proposals for years with little success.
“They’ve gotten us to a point where reform is possible, and now I think a single-issue advocacy and electoral campaign is needed to help push us over the edge,” Mr. Eldridge said. “I think we saw on marriage that that singular focus can make a big difference.”