Press Release

For Immediate Release: November 26, 2018
Contact: Laura Friedenbach, lfriedenbach@fairelectionsny.org

Over 90 Organizations Call On Albany Leaders to Fix Democracy as the First Order of Business

Fair Elections for NY Campaign Sent a Letter to the Governor and Legislature Urging Early 2019 Passage of Campaign Finance and Voting Reforms

Albany, NY With a shift in power taking place in Albany, a broad coalition of community, labor, faith, tenant, good government, advocacy, and grassroots resistance organizations from Buffalo to Long Island today called on Governor Andrew Cuomo, incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to fix New York’s democracy. The Fair Elections for New York campaign sent a letter to the Governor and all members of the Legislature signed by 91 groups calling for campaign finance reform, including small donor public financing of elections, and voting rights to be “the first order of business in the 2019 New York State Legislative Session.”

New York State’s campaign finance systems have allowed “an exorbitant amount of power to be concentrated in the hands of the very wealthy and well-connected,” says the Fair Elections letter. “This is at the great expense of every day New Yorkers, and even more so for low-income and people of color, who face daily crises around housing, education, health, transportation, a racist criminal justice system, and poor working conditions.” Click here to view the full letter.

“This election season showed us the real power of the grassroots organizing,” said Jessica Wisneski, Deputy Director of Citizen Action of New York. “New Yorkers spoke loud and clear about their desire for fair elections by voting out corporate IDC members, and electing new Senate leaders who are unafraid to stand up to big money interests. We need to make democracy reform the first order of business in 2019. That means passing a small dollar public financing program, so power is taken out of the hands of corporate CEOs and returned to where it belongs: with the people.”

“All New Yorkers deserve an equal voice in our democracy,” said Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “For too long, as our communities have fought for real affordable housing, full funding for public schools, and protections for immigrants, real estate and hedge fund billionaires have used their big money to prevent progress. Immigrants and people of color across New York need a public financing system to level the playing field of our state’s democracy.”

“If we do not change how elections are financed in New York, we will never be able to truly win for tenants,” said Jonathan Westin, Executive Director of New York Communities for Change. “The answer is clear. We need to act fast to get Albany working for all New Yorkers, not just wealthy special interests. It’s time for leaders in Albany to get serious about getting landlord money out of New York politics and bringing the voices of tenants in.”

“New York State should be a model of American democracy. Instead its electoral system lags far behind. Too often, it’s an embarrassment,” said Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Above all, we should lead by enacting modern, pro-participation campaign finance reform. NYC has the country’s best system of small donor public financing. We can be the first to enact the reform statewide. And at a bare minimum, we should bring our elections in line with the rest of the country by enacting automatic voter registration and early voting. For years the state’s leaders have said they support change. Now they have a chance to act.”

“We need public financing of elections to ensure that our democratic process reflects the will of New York voters, not deep-pocketed corporations and individuals,” said Héctor Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU. “It’s time for New York to be at the forefront of the movement to strengthen our democracy, take big money of out politics and protect and expand voting rights.”

“This election season, we proved that true power lies in the hands of the people,” said Judith Hertzberg of True Blue NY. “But to keep our new lawmakers in Albany true to their words, we need a campaign finance system that prohibits big checks from lobbyists in Albany in favor of small-donor-driven matching funds.  We are confident the new majority will take Albany by storm and get this done – and they know we’ll be here to cheer them on or hold their feet to the fire when need be.”

“New York can and should be a leader in fighting corruption in government and in bringing transparency and accountability to elections,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United. “Creating a statewide small-dollar, citizen-funded campaign finance system will lift up all voices – not just the privileged few. End Citizens United urges New York’s elected leadership to pass a comprehensive democracy reform package that includes this system in 2019.”

See below for more quotes from campaign supporters.

The recommended reforms are similar to proposals Governor Cuomo, Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie have supported over the years—consistently blocked by Republicans in the Senate—and reflect the recommendations of the 2013 Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. The proposed Fair Elections reform package includes:

  • Small donor public financing. A small donor matching system for candidates in state elections, including District Attorneys, like the successful program in New York City. Includes $6-to-$1 public matching on small dollar donations, enforcement, and robust candidate support services to help anyone running for office comply with the law. Governor Cuomo has called small donor public financing “the only way to truly fix” Albany’s dysfunction. The Assembly has consistently called for public financing, and of the incoming Senate Majority, at least 38 of the 39 Democrats support public financing, according to public statements, past bill sponsorship, and candidate questionnaires.
  • Limit the influence of big money. Close the “LLC loophole,” which allows anyone to funnel unlimited money into our elections and conceal the donor’s identity. Also, reduce New York’s unusually high contribution limits to restrict how much money wealthy donors can give to candidates and committees, among other improvements.
  • Making it easier, not harder, to vote. Including but not limited to automatic voter registration, early voting, same day registration, online voter registration, no excuse absentee voting, new party enrollment deadlines, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, full voting access for people with disabilities, and codify into law New York’s new policy to extend voting rights to all New Yorkers with past criminal convictions.

The Fair Elections for New York campaign is bringing together a broad array of individuals and groups across the state to ensure that an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance systems, in addition to its voting systems, is the first order of business in 2019. As concern about the state of democracy in America grows, the campaign is planning grassroots activities in Albany and around the state with the help of many local grassroots groups to give concerned New Yorkers a chance to have their voices heard.  

“This is a national crisis, and New York State can be a leader in stopping it,” the letter to Albany leaders states. “It is with this in mind that we are coming together now, with a unified voice, to be very clear about our collective request to make strengthening democracy in New York State—both voting reform and public financing of elections—your top priority early in 2019.”

The groups who signed the letter include 32BJ SEIU, 50 West 93 Street Tenant Association, ALIGN, Alliance for Quality Education, American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee, Association of Tenants of Lincoln Towers, Bend the Arc, The Black Institute, Brennan Center for Justice, Buffalo Democratic Socialists of America, Campaign for New York Health, Capital District Democratic Socialists of America, Churches United For Fair Housing, Citizen Action New York, The Civics Center, Community Voices Heard, CWA District 1, Democracy Initiative, Democracy Matters, Demos, Dutchess County Progressive Action Alliance, Empire State Indivisible, End Citizens United, Equal Citizens, Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, Every Voice, Four Freedoms Democratic Club, Greater NYC for Change, Grassroots Action NY, Human Works, Inc., Human Services Council, Humanists of Long Island, Indivisible Beekman, Indivisible CD19 NY, Indivisible Nation BK, Indivisible the Fight Is On, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS, Long Island Civic Engagement Table, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Long Island Network for Change, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Long Island Together, Make the Road New York, MAYDAY America, Metro New York Health Care for All, MPower Change, Muslims For Progress, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), New York Civic Engagement Table, New York Communities for Change, New York Immigration Coalition, New York Progressive Action Network, New York State Council of Churches, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, No IDC NY, North American Climate, Conservation and Environment (NACCE), Northeast NY Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health, Northwest Bronx Indivisible, NYCAIC’s #HALTsolitary campaign, NYCD16 Indivisible, NYS Nurses Association (NYSNA), Our Revolution, The People’s Empowerment Project/Democracy Coffee, People Power Patchogue, Persist81, Progressive East End Reformers (PEER), Progressive Power Inwood Heights, Progressive Turnout Project, Public Citizen, Rally+Rise, Reinvent Albany, RepresentUs, Riverside Edgecombe Neighborhood Association, Rockland United, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Small Planet Institute, Solidarity Committee/Capital District, Strong Economy For All Coalition, Suffolk Progressives, Sunrise NYC, Tenants Political Action Committee, True Blue New York, Ulster People for Justice & Democracy, Union Vale Indivisible, Uptown Progressive Action, Westchester for Change, and Working Families Party.

Follow the Fair Elections for New York campaign on Twitter and Facebook. Learn more at FairElectionsNY.org.

Quotes from Fair Elections for New York supporters:

“For far too long, New York’s campaign finance system has left too many elected officials beholden to major corporations and super rich donors, and working people have been left behind. Now is the time to get big money out of politics and ensure that our elected officials put the concerns of working people first. Public financing of elections has been a top CWA priority, both nationally and in New York State, for over a decade, and it will be at the top of our list as we embark on a new era in Albany in 2019.”
–Bob Master, Assistant for the Vice President, CWA District 1

“New York State government will not work equally for all until there are truly fair elections. Unfortunately, New York State elections aren’t fair. They’re heavily tilted towards candidates who take the most money from the richest special interests, including people getting government contracts. We’re proud to be part of the Fair Elections coalition which has the best chance in decades to make New York State government start working more for the common interest than the special interest.”
–John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany

“The first step towards moving the needle on New York’s worst-in-the-nation economic inequality is strengthening our democracy. We’ve got to reduce the impact of big money from the billionaires and hedge funds, and increase the impact of small donations from regular New Yorkers—that’s exactly what the Fair Elections law will do.”
–Charles Khan, Organizing Director for the Strong Economy For All Coalition

“The grassroots engagement that led to an overwhelming Democratic majority in the New York State legislature was fueled by a conviction that business as usual in Albany was no longer going to cut it. New Yorkers deserve bold and innovative leaders who prioritize their constituents over special interests and work tirelessly to build a more open, transparent, and responsive government. Our new Democratic trifecta must seize the opportunity to expand voting rights and reform our campaign finance system at the start of the 2019 legislative session.”
–Empire State Indivisible

“When we have elections that allow the majority of New Yorkers to have a voice, we will have policy makers reflect the will of the people, not only corporate interests. We need to even the playing field to make it possible to not just win a healthcare system that is accountable to the people, but to keep it that way.”
–Katie Robbins, Director of the Campaign for New York Health

“Campaign finance reform is a necessary step to assuring comprehensive, quality, affordable health care for all New Yorkers.  Health care was a top issue for New Yorkers when they went to the polls earlier this month, and many voted for our next state legislature to move forward on a plan for universal health care in our state.  The vested special interests who currently profit handsomely off our health care system –Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Medicine– will do everything in their power to either stop it outright, or shape it to their advantage to protect their hegemony and profiteering.  We can neutralize their impact on the debate and raise up the voices of voters to match them by adopting a fair elections agenda for New York.”
–Mark Hannay, Director, Metro New York Health Care for All

“The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement / #HALTsolitary campaign stands in solidarity with our allies in supporting Fair Elections and believing that ALL New Yorkers – including people who are currently incarcerated and people on parole – should have the right to vote and in turn representation in the critical decisions affecting all of our lives. New York should do everything possible to make voting for everyone as accessible and easy as possible. The time to act is now.”
–The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC)

“New York has consistently one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation. Our legislature has a chance to change that by passing voting rights reforms to break down barriers to voting and by passing fair elections to empower every day New Yorkers to be part of the election process. We are here to make sure they do.”
–Jonah Minkoff-Zern, Campaign Director for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign

“New York State consistently has one of the worst voter turnout in the nation. Communities of color, in specific, have faced extraordinary institutional barriers to voting that have led to entire communities being left out of the democratic process. We can help spark civic engagement for New Yorkers statewide by passing common sense voting reforms in our state legislature that removes barriers to registering to vote and by taking big money out of politics.”
–Rodman Serrano, Field Coordinator for the Long Island Civic Engagement Table

“The State of New York has an unnecessarily punitive and onerous voting system that was, and is, purposefully designed to depress voter turnout and leave the entrenched state powers unopposed via electoral means. During the midterms earlier this month – as well as the primaries back in September – we saw rampant voter suppression, whether through intentional actions of the election officials, or simply extreme incompetence on their part. Until we have fair elections in New York, the will of the people shall NOT be seen or heard truly, and the dream of ‘democracy’ will continue to be just that: a dream.”
–Buffalo Democratic Socialists of America

“The voices of young people and students today are silenced by the power of big money in New York and by the state’s antiquated voting rules.  Fair Elections promises not only to make voting fairer and easier, but also to ensure that elected representatives listen to all their constituents – not just their big funders. Passing these reforms in January will restore the faith of young people in their government, and empower them to help shape their future.”
–Democracy Matters

“Public financing of elections is one of the best anti-corruption actions that can be taken and would end up leveling the playing field for anyone who would want to run for office.  It’s also cheaper to pay up front for a clean election than it would end up costing to clean up after an election compromised by big money.”
–Maria Quackenbush, Dutchess County Progressive Action Alliance

“We’ve been doing a lot of voter registration and voter education recently.  We realize that the most important thing we can do now is to protect and revitalize our democracy, and that starts by ensuring that every American is able to vote.  New York should be at the forefront of that, not trailing behind everyone else.”
–Muslims for Progress

“Fair and competitive elections are an indispensable part of our democratic system. If the governor and Democrats in the Senate and Assembly want to demonstrate their commitment to the kind of grassroots democracy progressive voters and activists are looking for, they must support election reforms and public matching funds for political campaigns. We urge them to do so this year.”
–The Four Freedoms Democratic Club

“Humanists care about social justice and equality for all people; Ethical Humanists chose to find worth and dignity in every human being. It is about respecting people and caring about improving each person’s well-being.  Economic inequality is detrimental to human flourishing in every way and our current way of raising political funds for lobbying is skewed entirely towards the needs of the wealthy few. Therefore, The Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island and Humanists of Long Island have chosen to ‘sign on’ and be a part of the ‘Fair Elections’ campaign.”
–The Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island

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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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