For Immediate Release: February 27, 2019
New Yorkers to Albany: Finish the Job!
Fair Elections Campaign Swarms Albany to Call on Legislators to Pass Public Financing of Elections
Hundreds of activists from across state tell legislators to make New York a true leader in fair elections
Small Donor Matching: “real test of the new Albany’s commitment to meaningful campaign finance reform.”
Albany- Today, Fair Elections for New York swarmed the Capitol with hundreds of grassroots activists from across the state — from Long Island to Buffalo — coming together to tell New York elected officials that true campaign finance reform with a small dollar matching system must be passed in this year’s budget. The proposal was included in Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget but still needs to be kept in the budget by the Governor and adopted by the Legislature.
“Along with lower contribution limits, small donor matching is the single most important campaign finance reform there is to lessen the undue influence of big money in New York State politics. Governor Cuomo, Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins have all authored Fair Elections bills, and majorities of sitting legislators in the Senate and Assembly are on the record in support,” said Campaign Manager of Fair Elections for New York, Dave Palmer. “We’re impressed by what we’re seeing in Albany so far, but watch what happens to this issue in the budget. With the only ostensible opposition out of the way, this is the real test of the new Albany’s commitment to meaningful campaign finance reform. It’s already in the budget. It only comes out if the Governor, Speaker and Majority Leader want that to happen. History suggests we won’t see real reform if it’s not in the budget; we’re storming the castle today to ask legislators to finish the job before April 1.”
After a press conference at the Capitol, constituents from around the state met with over 100 legislators to urge them to support the provision in the budget.
“When I ran, I had the good fortune of receiving a lot of small donations, but also crucial support from many of my former colleagues who could afford to give. But so many people don’t have that resource,” said Senator Zellnor Myrie. “The first question for anyone who wants to run for office shouldn’t be whether or not you can raise money, but whether or not you’re the best candidate to serve your community.”
“During my campaign last year, I talked with thousands of voters, and I heard their anger about New York’s dysfunctional democracy. It seemed as if New York was putting up hurdles to exclude people from the political process. For too long, wealthy interests have been able to buy elections — and do it legally thanks to broken campaign finance laws,” said Senator Rachel May. “A small donor matching system — in which modest donations from people within the candidate’s district are multiplied with matching funds financed by the public at large — would boost the voices of working New Yorkers and break big money’s stranglehold on state government.”
“Our democracy will be stronger and more secure when we enact public financing of campaigns driven by New Yorkers making small matchable contributions rather than mega-donors,” said Senator Brian Kavanagh, a member of the Elections Committee who has long championed campaign finance reform. “This will help make sure that anyone of any economic background can run for office and represent their community without needing to rely on big checks. It will also prevent New Yorkers’ voices from being drowned out by wealthy special interests. We’ve already taken huge steps this year to remove unnecessary obstacles to voting; now, we must take similarly bold action to reform the system by which campaigns are paid for,” said Senator Brian P. Kavanagh.
“Fair Elections, including a small donor matching funds system, will allow more working people to afford to represent their communities,” 32BJ SEIU Vice President Shirley Aldebol said. “We know that when our members have the political representation they need, their lives and their jobs are better protected. We are proud to support Fair Elections reforms, which will strengthen our communities and our democracy.”
“As college students, my friends and I feel that we don’t have a voice in our state government. But with Fair Elections we would have confidence that our representatives were listening to us, rather than to their big campaign donors.” said Sean O’Brien, Student, Binghamton University, Democracy Matters member (Binghamton).
“As a graduate of college in May 2018 and a young person, Fair Elections is important because it is about ensuring that young people like me can also have a voice in the political process. The single largest issue facing college students and recent graduates today is the piling amounts of debt that will take many years to pay off. It is critical that we have our politicians fight on our behalf to help us have a future not loaded in debt,” said Ajit Bhullar, recent graduate, Holy Cross, Fellow, Public Citizen (Syracuse).
“The housing laws in Albany are fundamentally broken. Landlords and developers have dictated policy for too long, and now there are 92,000 homeless people in New York State; millions more either can’t afford their rent or have no basic tenant protections,” said Winsome Pendergrass, tenant activist, New York Communities for Change (Brooklyn). “We need to get dirty real estate money out of our politics, and pass fair elections in this budget. It’s the only way we’ll win universal rent control and give New York tenants the protections they need and deserve.”
“I have been fighting for at least 15 years for Safe Staffing, a bill that would limit the number of patients a nurse could take care of at one time. No one disputes that when nurses are understaffed, patients are more likely to die,” said Sarah Buckley, RN (Buffalo). “Yet big money contributions from pharmaceutical companies and hospitals have continually kept Safe Staffing from becoming law. We need Fair Elections to raise the voices of regular New Yorkers like nurses, patients and their families!”
The diverse and growing 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.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Carl Heastie have all authored small donor matching systems proposals in the past that reflect the recommendations of the 2013 Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, yet they 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 in the Assembly and Senate the path is clear to get the job done.
New York currently has some of the worst campaign finance laws in the country, including the highest contribution limits of any state that limits what donors can give in state elections. Introducing a small donor matching system for candidates in state elections would bring New York from the back of the pack to a national leader, becoming the first state since Citizens United to counter the unlimited, secret money flowing into our elections by amplifying the power of small donations.
The program would work like the successful New York City system, introducing a $6-to-$1 public match on small dollar donations for candidates who agree to lower contribution limits and show widespread support by collecting small donations to qualify for the program. Participating candidates would be able to run competitive campaigns while fundraising from everyday New Yorkers, instead of seeking checks from big donors.
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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