States With Public Financing of Elections Have Higher Percentage Of Women In Their Legislatures Than New York, Which Ranks 32nd In The Nation

Diverse Group Of Women Push For Passage Of Public Financing In State Budget

NYC Public Advocate James: I Wouldn’t Be In Elected Office Without Public Financing; Joins Leader Stewart-Cousins, And Prominent Women In Support Of Gov.’s Proposal

ALBANY – At an event today in the Capitol, the Fair Elections for New York Campaign, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James joined Senate Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, members of the New York State Senate and Assembly, and women’s rights advocates to call for the passage of comprehensive campaign finance reform, including a small-donor, public matching system for state elections in the final 2014 budget.

The event comes two days after 190 prominent women, including Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Gloria Steinem, sent a letter calling on Governor Cuomo to push for passage of his proposal to eliminate the undue influence that big money donors hold over the electoral process in New York, and for the state Legislature to support it.

For women in particular, public financing of elections is vital to participation in politics. Experience shows that when women are elected to office, they fight for and win passage of issues that deeply affect women and their families. Despite significant progress, women are still drastically underrepresented in elective offices across the country. 160 years after the Seneca Falls Convention and the birth of the women’s right movement in New York, women hold only 18 percent of the seats in the New York State Senate, and 25 percent in the State Assembly.

Public campaign financing encourages and facilitates women running for office. In fact, five of six states with public financing of elections (Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota and Nebraska) have a higher percentage of women representatives in state legislative bodies than the national average. The first Governor elected with a full public financing system was a woman: Janet Napolitano of Arizona. And New York City’s robust system of public financing recently helped elect two women of color as top city-wide leaders: Public Advocate Tish James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Emceed by Karen Scharff, representing the Fair Elections for New York campaign, speakers today included NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk, Assemblywomen Linda Rosenthal and Nily Rozic, Andrea Miller of NARAL Pro-Choice NY, Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters, and Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY, among others.

“Our democracy is being hijacked by big money interests,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. “If we care about a more representative government, including more women in office, we must enact a public campaign financing system. Having public financing in the proposed budget is an important first step. Now, we must pass it and rid our system of the out sized influence of big money and special interests.”

“The alarming trend of state elections being flooded with hundreds of millions of campaign dollars should serve as a wake-up call to all New Yorkers,” Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “It’s an unfortunate reality that our current elections system forces candidates to raise ever-increasing sums of money leading some lawmakers to focus more on large donors than their constituents. Fair elections and public financing reforms will level the playing field and enable more qualified candidates to participate in the electoral process.”

“Public funding for candidates is a proven mechanism for getting more women elected to office,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, the youngest women serving in the State Legislature. “If we’re truly committed to leveling the playing field, public financing of campaigns has to be a top priority.”

Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson said, “Until New York State allows for a public financing system, we will continue to disenfranchise not only our voters, but many potential candidates, especially women and persons of color. We have seen the positive results of public financing in the City of New York, and it is only rational to have the rest of the State utilize this method of funding campaigns. I urge my Senate and Assembly colleagues to support this in the final 2014 budget.”

“I have supported a system of publicly financed elections for years,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. “By getting big money out of campaigns, we can get more candidates on the ballot, and in turn, diversify those who want to serve.”

Senator Liz Krueger said, “A system like the one we have now, where four- and five-figure checks are the lifeblood of politics, is a recipe for government of, by, and for political insiders and the ultrawealthy. Lower contribution limits and small-donor matching funds will give everyday people the megaphone they need to be heard in our capitol. Moreover, these reforms will empower more everyday New Yorkers — from all backgrounds and all walks of life — to run for office with the support of their neighbors and their communities, without having to spend years courting lobbyists, special interests, and the ultra-wealthy.”

“Once again, the women of the Legislature are coming together to take a firm and principled stand, this time in favor of fair elections,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Campaign finance reform is necessary to ensure a well-functioning democracy, where the best person running for elective office, and not the one with the deepest pockets, wins the race. If we want the best and brightest leading our state, then it is incumbent upon us to reform the way in which we finance elections in this state. Public financing not only ensures that people in the state of New York will have better representation in Albany, but it will guarantee that more women and racial and ethnic minorities will have the opportunity to run. Elected officials should reflect the diversity that is characteristic of New York State, and campaign finance reform will help to get us there.”

Senator Velmanette Montgomery said, “Fair and representative legislatures can only come from fair elections. That means equal access, and that means access to fair financing, public financing. New York City has shown us the way, and now the State needs to get on board! I am very proud to join my fellow legislators in support of the Fair Elections Campaign.”

Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa said, “In Albany, I vote with my heart as a mother. I support publicly funded elections to take big money out of politics and give more moms the chance to run for office. We need women deciding women’s issues: equal pay, affordable childcare, paid family leave and reproductive rights. Fifty-two percent of the people in this state are women, and at least 52 percent of our elected officials should be, too.”

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said, “As one of only eleven women in the Senate, and the only female Senator from Queens, I understand how important it is for women to have representation in Albany. The consequences were clear last year, when the legislature failed to pass the entire Women’s Equality Agenda, said. I proudly stand with my colleagues who believe it is time to pass a fair, public finance system for those who seek office. In my last two primary elections, one of my opponents spent more than $1 million against me. Campaign finance reform will help break down some of the barriers women face when running for office.”

“The biggest barrier to more women running for office is the need to raise boatloads of campaign cash,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “With New York ranking 32nd in women legislators, it’s no wonder that women’s issues often have to take a back seat. Fair Elections will boost the voices of ordinary New Yorkers and help to make our government more representative of voters.”

“When we look at the makeup of the people across this state, and then look at the makeup of our legislature, it is clear that we have a crisis of representation. It is time that women across New York are represented by elected officials that understand our needs and share our pro-woman, pro-choice values. It’s time for New York to start working for New York women. If the legislature looked more like the actual make up of New York State, I am convinced Albany would make women’s lives a priority in this state – and the key to making that happen is ensuring that we have fair elections in New York,” said Andrea Miller, President of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

“Politics is an inside game with women generally on the outside. A public financing system, which lowers barriers to entry and fosters greater participation, substantially benefits both female candidates and voters by expanding options. We need Fair Elections to even the playing field,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

“As part of comprehensive campaign finance reform, a small donor matching system of public financing will encourage a larger pool of candidates, in particular minorities and women with little access to large donors,” said Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director for the League of Women Voters of NYS. “The League urges the Governor and the legislative leaders to keep comprehensive campaign finance reform in the final budget.”