FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Fair Elections Campaign Holds Press Conference and Rally At First Meeting of Public Campaign Financing Commission
Campaign Calls on the Commission to Deliver “Model for the Nation” Program and Lessen the Influence of Big Money in NYS Politics
Commission Has 100 Days to Issue Binding Recommendations
ALBANY, NY — Supporters of the Fair Elections for New York campaign held a rally and press conference today ahead of the Public Campaign Financing Commission’s first meeting to call on the commissioners to deliver a model-for-the-nation public financing program, which Governor Cuomo had previously promised to deliver.
As the campaign’s new online countdown clock shows, the Commission will have 100 days come this Friday to issue final binding recommendations on December 1st.
The over 200 groups that make up the Fair Elections for New York campaign are advocating for a public financing program to make New York’s democracy work for everyone, not just the wealthy few. Campaign members said the program must include at least a 6-to-1 match on small donations for both primary and general elections, lower contribution limits, and an independent enforcement unit. The campaign also called attempts to eliminate fusion voting an irrelevant political distraction.
“The Public Campaign Finance Commission has just 100 days left to fulfill their important mandate to give New Yorkers a bigger voice in our democracy and end the era of big money in Albany. We have seen a surge of energy from New Yorkers demanding their voices are heard loud and clear in the halls of Albany, and a strong people-powered small donor public financing program is the answer. We’re here today to let the Commission and the leaders who appointed them know that New Yorkers are paying attention and expect them to craft a model for the nation to lessen the influence of big money and give power back to constituents. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste,” said Laura Friedenbach, deputy campaign manager for the Fair Elections for New York campaign.
New York has some of the worst campaign finance laws in the country, allowing big donors to dominate. The state has the highest contribution limits of any state with limits, and ranks among the lowest in the country when it comes to the share of money given from small donors. A recent analysis by the Brennan Center shows that just 100 people donated more to New York state candidates in 2018 than all 137,000 estimated small donors combined. That analysis also showed that over 90 percent of donations came from just three of New York State’s wealthiest counties, Nassau, Westchester, and New York County, all of which are predominantly white. Analyses by Reinvent Albany show the Assembly leadership raised just 16 percent of its contributions from their constituents, while the Senate fared little better with 23 percent. Both houses of the legislature disproportionately raise contributions from entities with business before the legislature, illustrating the need to amplify the voices of everyday New Yorkers through a strong public financing system.
After a massive grassroots effort by the over 200 groups supporting the Fair Elections for New York campaign to pass public financing in the budget, campaign finance reform became a top budget issue.
The responsibility now rests with our elected leaders in Albany to ensure we end this year with a strong small donor public financing program, whether through the commission or legislative action.
The Commission’s enabling statute specifically gives the Legislature a 22-day window to “amend or abrogate” the Commission’s recommendations once they are released in December. Given this, the Fair Elections campaign also called on the Legislature — the body elected by New Yorkers — to be ready for this moment by introducing legislation on campaign finance reform. This step would enable the swift action that may be necessary in December to either replace or amend the Commission’s recommendations – or to act if a lawsuit prevents the Commission from acting at all.
Statements from Supporters of Fair Elections for New York:
“Working with vulnerable communities throughout NYS, we know deeply the schism that often exists between communities and those in elected office,” said Jawanza James Williams, Director of Organizing at VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that works with low-income NYers. “We are holding this commission to account because the democratic process in this state is overwhelmingly in favor of industry, and our Black, Brown, and low-income membership from across the state urge us call for a small-donor match, because our voices should not be muted by the influence of corporate dollars.”
“The clock is ticking: New York must act swiftly to pass a strong public financing system to ensure that the voices of all citizens, regardless of race or income level, are heard in our democracy,” said Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “Our community has been in the streets since January demanding action, and now the commission must deliver it.”
“We have the chance to give regular New Yorkers the tools to go up against big real estate and lobby groups that push for policies that have a negative impact on our lives. Small donor matching doesn’t just increase the ability for everyday people to run for office. It also gives them a chance to defend their elected champions when the corporate interests get involved. Success looks like the commission creating a robust small donor matching campaign system while not threatening the fusion voting system that strengthens our democracy,” said Stanley Fritz, New York City Campaigns Manager for Citizen Action of New York.
“Wealthy donors and corporate interests have the upper hand in our democratic process. The commission has the opportunity to create a public financing system that incentivizes candidates seeking support from small donors in the districts they are seeking to represent, which will help level the playing field and give the people a greater voice in our electoral process,” said L. Joy Williams, President, Brooklyn NAACP; Legislative Coordinator, NYS NAACP.
“New York’s lawmakers entrusted this commission with the future of our state’s democracy. The commissioners’ objective—create a public financing system that incentivizes candidates to seek more small donations—is as clear as it is attainable, thanks to years of research and policy development. The commission must create a robust small donor matching system. That’s what will make Albany more responsive to the public and less beholden to the wealthiest few,” said Chisun Lee, Senior Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.
“For too long, New York has allowed wealthy donors and corporate interests to influence the political process. We hope the commission enacts a strong public financing plan to ensure our democracy responds to everyday working families, not just a wealthy few. But we cannot allow the Governor to use this commission to threaten fusion voting and attack the Working Families Party. Governor Cuomo’s decision to include fusion voting in the Public Financing Commission’s purview is an unconstitutional attack against voters’ rights. The goal of the commission should be to expand and strengthen our democracy, not weaken and shrink it by rolling back fusion, a fundamental voting right that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers count on,” said New York Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton.
“The clock is ticking. The commission has only 100 days to complete its work and, as far as we can tell, little has been accomplished. The commission must now narrowly focus its attention to the most important task at hand, developing a voluntary system of public financing — a system that shifts political power from a very small number of wealthy and powerful donors to a much larger number of small contributors. In doing so, the commission will meet its legal mandate, help invigorate a deeper participation by the electorate, and reduce the risk of corruption. A win, win, win for the state,” said Blair Horner, Executive Director, NYPIRG.
“Publicly financed elections, matching small donors, is the only way to ensure that the Governor and New York State Legislature pays attention to ordinary New Yorkers and their needs. We won’t really see the real economic inequities and health disparities addressed in this state until we have fair elections,” said Charles King, CEO, Housing Works, Inc.
“CWA District 1 is proud to stand with a diverse coalition of more than 200 organizations in support of fair elections. New York’s working people know that Albany is not representing their best interests when big money is buying influence in government. We need a small donor matching systems that ensures the voices of ordinary New Yorkers are not drowned out of the political process,” said Bob Master, Assistant to the Vice President CWA District 1.
“We have 100 days to shift the balance of power in New York away from a small group of the wealthy and well-connected,” said Paul Westrick, Manager of Democracy Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. “This is an opportunity to amplify the power of everyday New Yorkers in the political process and give our immigrant communities a real voice in our democracy. The commission has a lot of work to do in a short period of time, so it’s crucial the legislature be ready to act should it fall short.”
“As progressive grassroots leaders, Indivisibles across New York know democracy reform means more than voting reform; in addition to increasing voting access, we must increase the power of small dollar donations and limit the influence of big money in elections. We support comprehensive campaign finance reform, which must include a small-donor matching system to amplify the voices of women, of people of color, and of the working and middle classes in New York State. We fought hard for fair elections this year, and it’s time for our leaders to listen to the grassroots and deliver meaningful reforms,” said Lauren Boc, State Policy Manager, Indivisible Project.
“Nothing matters more to restoring the public trust in Albany in the next 100 days than establishing a strong public financing system,” said Alex Camarda, Senior Policy Advisory at Reinvent Albany. “The state’s leaders have the opportunity to seize the moment, and finally achieve what has eluded elected officials for decades: fixing our broken campaign finance laws.”
“New York State needs publicly financed elections so candidates and elected officials are accountable to the voters, not deep pocketed donors. The Public Campaign Finance Commission has the opportunity to create a small donor matching system that ensures that politicians are putting the public’s interest ahead of special interests, prevent undue influence over decision making and amplify the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It is time to bring fair elections to New York and create a system that serves as a model for the nation,” said Betsy Gotbaum, Executive Director of Citizens Union.
“The U.S. House of Representatives in March passed the most comprehensive democracy bill in history (HR1), which included the implementation of a small-donor matching system. We urge the commission and the New York State Legislature to follow the lead of national lawmakers by recommending and implementing a small-donor matching system that ensures that access to money does not determine a person’s ability to run for office or limit the voice of voters in our democracy,” said Christine Wood of Public Citizen
“The clock is ticking for the Public Campaign Financing Commission to do its job—and we’re calling on the commissioners to enact a strong 6-1 small-donor matching system and lower campaign contribution limits for all candidates running for office in New York. New York has an historic opportunity to lift the voices of working families in our election process and decrease the influence of the big-moneyed interests that have dominated in Albany. Comprehensive campaign finance reform will ensure that politicians answer to working families, not just the rich and powerful—and that’s why it’s so important for this commission to finally listen to New Yorkers and enact critical reforms,” said Stand Up America.
“The creation of a robust small donor public financing system, mandated by the New York State Legislature, is essential for making our state a true democracy. Young people especially have too often given up on our political system because they feel they have no voice. The Public Campaign Financing Commission has an obligation to New Yorkers to do its work efficiently and transparently in the 100 days that remain before the deadline,” said Joan Mandle, Executive Director of Democracy Matters
“When the Governor and the Legislature punted their responsibilities to deliver a small-donor matching, public financing system to an unelected commission, New Yorkers took notice. So along with our grassroots and organizing partners, we promised to continue to show up throughout the process and push our leaders to deliver on the opportunity to uplift the voices of everyday people and to reduce the influence of big money in our elections. As the commission of appointees assembles today for the very first time, we want to remind our elected leaders that they are ultimately accountable for the recommendations due on December 1st and we expect them to use every ounce of their power to ensure those recommendations deliver the ‘model for the nation’ program that Governor Cuomo promised,” said Ricky Silver, Co-lead Organizer, Empire State Indivisible.
“It is outrageous and unacceptable to allow wealthy donors and special interests to dominate our elections. Small donor matching and lowering contribution limits will amplify the voices of ordinary New Yorkers. We the people are counting on the commission to do its work,” said Julie Wegener of Uptown Progressive Action
“It’s time for the Campaign Finance Reform Commission to bring home real reform. New Yorkers want a six to one small donor match which empowers the public and levels the playing field against big money interests. The Senate and Assembly should be ready with draft bills, in case the Commission fails to deliver what the public wants,” said Deborah Porder and Myra Saul, Co-leaders of Indivisible Scarsdale.
“We strongly urge the Public Finance Commission to recommend the ‘model for the nation’ public financing program that Governor Cuomo has promised. The Commission has 100 days left to complete the crucially important work of creating a system that truly amplifies the voices of everyday New Yorkers. We believe a small donor matching system will significantly strengthen democracy by encouraging a wide range of qualified candidates to run for office without requiring the support of big donors. The voters of New York have made it clear that they want such a program. Now it’s up to the Commission and the Legislature to follow through,” said PEER/NYPAN (Progressive East End Reformers), based on eastern Long Island.
“Election reform is long over due in NY State. While there is much to do, reducing the influence of big money is a critical first step. Our representatives need to spend less time chasing big dollar donations and more time putting the interest of their constituents first. A small dollar donation matching system will go a long way to that end. Rockland United calls on the Public Campaign Finance Commission to heed the clarion call of the NY’s voters– it is time for our leaders to deliver,” said Rockland United.
“Elections should be fair, transparent, and open. With a small donor matching system, we’ll see more people running for office, and more New Yorkers engaged in the political process. People across the state have spoken up about the changes they want made. Now it’s up to the Commission to see them through,” said Alex Morgan, Executive Director, Progressive Turnout Project.
“When it comes to politics big money usually equals dirty money which advances the needs of those with deep pockets at the expense of the general public. A small donor matching program would give candidates the campaign funds needed to run for office without winding up beholden to special interests. The Public Campaign Finance Commission has the chance to create such a system which will give New Yorkers better government and one that could serve as a much needed model for the rest of the nation. The New York State Legislature will have only 22 days in December to abrogate or amend the commission’s plan. It should prepare for the possibility that the commission’s work will not be adequate,” said Gene Binder of Concerned Citizens For Change.
“The Supreme Court said that the backing of a political candidate by the wealthy, using amounts of money the average voter cannot afford to spend, is a legitimate example of free speech. If the justices acknowledge that more money means a wider audience, then they must acknowledge that the very poor will have no audience, will not be heard. This so-called free speech, then, is not free, by any of the uses of the word in English. By the Citizens United decision, speech is inescapably defined as a commodity, one that the rich can corner the market on, can deprive others of, can control America with. It’s a slap in the face that the United States seems to be utterly incapable of achieving untainted election results. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, unverifiable voting records, and massive inequities in influence on candidates and the outcomes of elections, create a rising distrust in our electoral process. We have to start somewhere to fix this problem. An influential partial solution would be public financing of campaigns, to circumvent Citizens United and end the conspicuous purchasing of public servants,” said Maria and Mike Quackenbush, Co-founders of Dutchess County Progressive Action Alliance (DCPAA).
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 came together to ensure comprehensive campaign finance reform, including small donor public financing, was included in this year’s state budget. The campaign plans to hold leaders accountable to their commitment in the budget to deliver Fair Elections reforms this year. Learn more at FairElectionsNY.org
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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