For Immediate Release: March 29, 2019
FAIR ELECTIONS CAMPAIGN COMBATS PUBLIC FINANCING OPPONENTS REHASHING TIRED MYTHS; OFFERS PATH TO GET THIS DONE IN THE BUDGET
In response to inaccurate statements about budget impact, worry about detail, and other previously addressed issues, the Fair Elections campaign offered point-by-point solutions today to create a clear path to enacting small donor matching in this year’s budget due Monday.
Too Many Details To Work Out Now; We Can Pass it Later
Put simple binding language in the budget that would require a public financing program for statewide and legislative offices. It should include at a minimum outlining 6-to-1 match, lower contribution limits, independent enforcement and a 2022 implementation date. The details can then be worked out later, with input from legislators and experts. Win/win: New Yorkers get real reform; legislators who say they support get time to weigh-in. It is clear that the budget is the most likely vehicle to ensure the enactment of a small donor matching system.
Funding the Program
Recent mischaracterizations of the cost notwithstanding, New York could easily cover the $60 million average yearly cost without touching taxpayer money by following the lead of Congressional Democrats and instituting a small surcharge on corporate fraud penalties, like the $425 million New York fined Deutsche Bank in 2017 for involvement in international money-laundering. In 2017, for example, a 5% surcharge would have generated $57 million, or basically enough to cover the program. Other off-budget solutions exist which can be explored and finalized after the budget process.
Public financing would actually help candidates facing independent expenditures because it enables them to raise enough money for their message to be heard, and voters increasingly want to see candidates running on small donations. Still worried? The program is voluntary.
The proposal on the table has no spending limits. 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.
Concern About Upstate Support
New Yorkers support Fair Elections (78%), and are less likely to support their Legislator (59%) and the Governor (63%) if they do not include Fair Elections in the budget. The support extends to Trump voters (62%), as well as across the state. Support is strong in Long Island (81%), in the Hudson Valley (80%), Upstate New York (77%) and New York City (77%).
Don’t Like NYC’s Campaign Finance Board
The Governor’s proposal already addresses some of these concerns (i.e., and doesn’t propose the NYCCFB), and the state has the ability to craft the support and compliance unit it needs. The coalition has provided concrete statutory language based on Connecticut’s agency, which has a reputation among candidates there for providing ample support to help with compliance.
Raising Funds in Low-Income Districts
Under New York City’s 6-to-1 small donor public financing program, even the most low-income neighborhoods have seen robust participation by residents as donors. While it is important that candidates seeking public financing show some in-district support in the form of small contributions, what level is a detail that could be decided by a commission. The current budget proposal would allow small donations from any New Yorker to be matched.
Don’t Have the Votes
Carl Heastie sponsored the Fair Elections bill in 2016, after Citizens United. 88 members of the Assembly are on the record in support. The Senate and Governor can and should deliver Fair Elections in the budget if the Assembly won’t come willingly. They have the power to do so, and ample justification given the Assembly’s very public commitment to this issue.
One hundred big donors gave more in the 2018 state elections than all 137,000 small donors combined. Public financing of elections is the single best solution to reverse that trend. Democrats in Congress have made reforming our nation’s campaign finance laws their number one priority in 2019. New York lawmakers are poised to make national history by truly combating the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
But let’s be very clear: If this doesn’t happen, it is because our elected officials didn’t prioritize it. We suspect that while there are of course some legitimate policy questions (as with all policy), at the root, much of the above has been used by elected officials desiring to maintain the big money-dominated status quo.
Fair Elections legislation is one of the top issues being debated as the Legislature and Governor finalize the state budget due on April 1.
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.