Press Release

For Immediate Release: November 13, 2019
Contact: press@fairelectionsny.org

VIDEOS: Rally video is available HERE. Videos and photos of fair elections supporters at the Commission hearing can be found HERE. Video of fair elections supporters disrupting the meeting can be found HERE. The meeting’s livestream is on the Commission’s website

Fair Elections Advocates to Commission: Pass a Strong Public Matching Proposal

As Public Finance Commission Huddles in Closed Session, Fair Elections Campaign Calls for Vote on Senate Appointee Getachew’s Proposal to Replace Commission’s Weak Public Matching Program

Successful System Must Meet Statutory Goals: Encourage Small Donor Fundraising; Reduce Reliance on Big Money; Encourage Qualified Candidates To Run For Office

(Westchester, NY) – Today, Fair Elections for New York supporters rallied outside the Public Campaign Financing Commission’s commission meeting and packed the room calling for commissioners to pass a strong public matching proposal that would meet the goals set by the Legislature to reduce the influence of big money.  While the Commissioners huddled in a private session, the crowd called Senate appointee DeNora Getachew’s newly introduced policy proposal stronger than the Commission’s preliminary proposal and the very least the Commission should be prepared to adopt in order to create the “national model” Governor Cuomo said this Commission would deliver. 

Activists briefly interrupted the meeting, chanting “Big money out!  Voters in!” as the Commission discussed contribution limits that are too high. 

After decades of mounting pressure for the Governor and Legislature to limit the influence of big money in Albany — including from tenants, parents, patients, environmental advocates, and everyday New Yorkers — Governor Cuomo promised New Yorkers a campaign finance system that would be a “national model” and “the best in the United States” when the budget passed and the Public Campaign Financing Commission was created. This hard fought victory was intended to unchain our democracy from an elite, largely white and male donor class and bring real political power to regular people. In a system dominated by big money, meaningful campaign finance reform would do nothing less than transform our system of governance and the lives of everyday New Yorkers. 

The future of campaign finance reform in New York State is coming to a head today and tomorrow when the Commission is expected to make key decisions about the public campaign finance program it is tasked with creating for New York State. 

The Statute that created the Public Campaign Financing Commission spells out the Commission’s goals: “incentivizing candidates to solicit small contributions, reducing the pressure on candidates to spend inordinate amounts of time raising large contributions for their campaigns, and encouraging qualified candidates to run for office.” 

The proposal preliminarily approved by the Governor’s and the Assembly’s appointees — along with the jointly appointed 9th Commissioner, Henry Berger — falls short on every one of these  goals. As the New York Times Editorial Board recently wrote, “A nine-member commission is poised to squander a chance at needed changes.”

“While we fully support the goal of incentivizing in-district small donor fundraising, we will undermine that goal if we disadvantage lower-income districts and create a system that is insufficiently attractive to candidates,” said Dave Palmer, Campaign Director of the Fair Elections for New York campaign. “The competing proposal by Senate appointee Getachew is much stronger than the Commission’s preliminary proposal, and should be the very least the Commission is prepared to adopt. It is difficult to imagine how the Governor and Assembly appointees, and Commissioner Berger, could publicly defend weaker policy and reject the Senate appointee’s stronger proposal. All eyes should be on the Commission’s upcoming working meetings, to be held November 13 and 14, to see if they attempt to do so. These may be the last meetings before recommendations are released on November 27.”

“Jay Jacobs, the head of the Democratic party, who is doing Governor Cuomo’s bidding,  is trying to destroy third parties in New York State rather than implement a strong public financing program. They’ve moved off of a ban on fusion voting, because they know they can’t do that,” said Jessica Wisneski, co-Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “But now they’re trying to make it harder for third parties to exist: specifically, the Working Families Party. The WFP is part of the democratic fabric of New York state, and they’re trying to destroy us today. We’re watching out for Jay Jacobs and his shenanigans to see whether he’ll use the commission to reduce the influence of big money or instead destroy organizations that he disagrees with.”

“The Public Campaign Financing Commission has one job and one job only: to enact a small donor matching system that will even the playing field and give diverse, grassroots candidates a chance to represent their communities,” said David Schwartz, Vice-Chair of the Westchester-Putnam Working Families Party. “Any attempt by the commission to raise the ballot qualification threshold is nothing more than a naked effort by the Governor to hurt the Working Families Party and strengthen the Conservative Party. Furthermore, an effort to force parties to qualify every two years is just an attempt to get rid of the WFP line before 2022, the next year the Governor is running. If the Governor, Speaker and their appointees push this out, it’ll be clear they’re just trying to help Cuomo hurt WFP — even if it hurts the Senate Democrats reach the all-important 2/3 threshold. I can see why the Governor would want that agenda given his history with the IDC, but why Speaker Heastie would want it is beyond me.”

Any program must actually work for New York’s low-income and majority-working-class districts. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the tentatively approved design is risky and unproven, especially for low-income districts. More to the point, the movement behind campaign finance reform is not about what type of program can just pass muster, it is about reclaiming our democracy. The best course of action, according to Fair Elections supporters, is to: 

  • In addition to a robust in-district match, provide a match of $6-to-$1 on small contributions from any New Yorker (to mitigate the disadvantage to lower-income districts created by an in-district-only match, incentivize small donor fundraising outside the district, and lessen reliance on big money);
  • Dramatically lower contribution limits to at least the federal limits (to lessen the reliance on big money) and ensure contribution limits are in the same range for participating and non-participating candidates (to incentivize participation and prevent an incumbency protection program); and
  • Lower thresholds for candidates to qualify for public matching funds (to the amounts recommended by the Brennan Center for Justice and Michael Malbin at the Campaign Finance Institute). 
  • Enforcement independent of the State Board of Elections, which would oversee all campaign finance law, remains critical.

If the Governor and Legislature’s Commission falls short, the Governor and Legislature have an obligation to return to Albany to create the model program the Governor promised.

This Commission is the result of the grassroots activism of hundreds of groups supporting the Fair Elections for New York campaign who made campaign finance reform a top budget issue. These groups, representing a diverse array of interests, are united by the belief that in order to make progress in our state on issues that impact the daily lives of New Yorkers, we must first reduce the corrupting influence of big money in politics and amplify the voices of everyday New Yorkers. Small donor public financing is the single best solution to make our democracy work for everyone, not just big donors, and New York has a chance to lead the nation. 

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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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