Press Release

For Immediate Release: September 10, 2019
Contact: press@fairelectionsny.org

Fair Elections Campaign Rallies Outside Public Campaign Financing Commission First Public Hearing

With Less Than 90 Days to Issue Binding Recommendations,  Groups & Elected Officials Urged Commission to Focus on Public Financing and Not “Distractions” Like Fusion Voting

Groups Support at Least 6-1 Matching Donations for Primary and General Elections, Independent Enforcement, and Lower Contribution Limits

NEW YORK, NY — Supporters of the Fair Elections for New York campaign, including citywide and state-level elected officials, held a rally and press conference today ahead of the Public Campaign Financing Commission’s first public hearing and after an expert hearing earlier in the day. Groups called on the commissioners to deliver a model-for-the-nation public financing program, which Governor Cuomo had previously promised to deliver, without focusing on irrelevant political distractions like fusion voting. 

Video of the rally and press conference is available here

Following a huge grassroots effort by the over 200 groups that make up the Fair Elections for New York campaign, campaign finance reform became a top budget issue earlier this year and Governor Cuomo, the Senate, and the Assembly formed the Commission to outline New York’s small donor matching program by December 1, 2019. Supporters recently announced a statewide campaign to ensure that the commission and elected officials feel pressure to enact a bold public financing of elections program that will 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 (for participating and non-participating candidates), and an independent enforcement unit

As the campaign’s online countdown clock shows, the commission has less than 90 days to issue final binding recommendations.  With little time left for the commission to deliver on its core task of creating a robust public campaign financing program, Fair Elections for New York supporters urged the Commission to heed the New York Times, Daily News and Times Union editorials calling for them to focus solely on public financing and lay fusion aside.

“This Commission was created to reform New York’s lax campaign finance laws in response to New Yorkers demanding an end to big money’s undue  influence in New York politics. Our coalition of over 200 groups are calling on the Commission to craft the model for the nation Governor Cuomo promised. In doing that, they should avoid unnecessary and harmful political distractions like attempting to eliminate fusion voting, for which there was no public outcry,” said Dave Palmer, campaign manager for the Fair Elections for New York campaign.

New York has some of the worst campaign finance laws in the country–including the highest contribution limits of any state with limits–allowing big donors to dominate. A recent report by NYPIRG found that little has changed since the Commission on Government Integrity established by Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1980’s called New York’s campaign finance system a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment.” That commission and the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption established by Governor Andrew Cuomo five years ago called for small donor public financing as the solution. 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.

While the full Fair Elections campaign does not have a substantive position on fusion, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, 17 members of Congress including Jerry Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, 19 national progressive organizations, 26 New York State Senators, and hundreds more local elected officials strongly support fusion voting. The Court of Appeals has upheld three times that fusion voting is a constitutionally protected right. 

“I represent the wealthiest district in the state, and my voters want a fair election system–they want to get big money out of politics,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “Don’t be confused: if this commission aligns fusion voting with campaign finance reform, it’s very likely this whole thing blows up. Fusion voting is a discussion that people can have on a different day. It does not hold in this discussion of this commission. Do the right thing: low-donor matching campaign financing, walk away from the issue of fusion voting. It’s not in the mandate.”

“One thing we don’t want to do is eliminate the choice that voters have. That is why I do not support banning fusion voting. The Working Families Party has been the people’s party–the party that has been leading on all of the bills we have been talking about,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “This commission really has one job ahead of it—and the job should be enacting the strongest, most progressive public financing system in the entire country. No on fusion voting, yes on public financing.”

“I am here because I am a proud supporter of many years of the Working Families Party. I want to be clear: there is a progressive movement in New York because there is a Working Families Party. There is a Working Families Party because there is fusion voting. Fusion voting allows those people that don’t feel they fit in a two party system to have a voice, and has pushed the Democratic Party to the Left–where it belongs,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos. “The progressive change we have seen in the legislature won’t be able to continue to grow without public financing. Our democracy should be the equalizer for every New Yorker to be heard. I voted for a commission to pass public financing, not to ban fusion voting. What we’re asking for them to do today is to lay it aside.”

“We are here today to stand up and say that we are in support of public financing of elections. We want democracy. We want to have choice. If I was a member of the commission, I would say wait a minute: I am appointed because they want independent minds in order to make the best determinations,” said State Senator Robert Jackson. “We are dealing with public financing of elections–and that’s it. They have a job to do, and the one job they have to do is to set public financing law.”

“Fusion voting is democracy. Fusion voting protects democracy. Fusion voting is the law of the land in New York State. The Court of Appeals has ruled on it not once, not twice, but three times — saying fusion voting is legal,” said State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein. “We can’t have this commission try to have any impact on something we wanted nothing to do with when we voted on this commission,” said Harvey Epstein.

“I am tired of the tricks. I am tired of the back door legislating. I’m tired that we are even here today. Our conference was too cowardly to take this one and we kicked the can and now the commission has the power. To the commission: Do not overstep your boundary. You were commissioned to do one thing—campaign finance reform. There will be no way we will allow you to back-door legislate a fusion ban,” said State Assemblywoman Diane Richardson.

“It is so important that we have a more democratic system, to have clear and clean elections. To be able to vote for the party that you’re standing with is essential to that,” said State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou. “We have to make sure we’re not mixing campaign finance and fusion together: to amplify the voices of everyday New Yorkers, we have to fight to keep fusion, and we also have to fight for a very real, very strong campaign finance system.”

“I voted no against this commission because it is a poison pill. I promise you, they will implant inside this campaign finance system that I so desperately want so many poison pills into our election laws for years to come. This is a trick and a trap. I’ll be testifying later today to ask those commissioners to be good stewards of our democracy, so that the legislature can go back and do our job: to enact a campaign finance act. There is no reason why democracy can’t work. This is a charade. We should not give it credence,” said State Assemblyman Bobby Carol. 

“I recommend the commission preserve fusion voting—which has no connection whatsoever to public financing commission. This commission was put together to address public financing, not fusion voting, which his constitutionally protected,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.  “It is an atrocious overreach to combine these two issues.”

New York cannot be a true democracy when we have a system that disproportionately favors special interests. For too long we have had communities, like those of-color, that have been shut out of the political process due to a wealthy donor class that is 90 percent white, and male. What we need, and what we are calling for across New York, is fair elections. Our broad coalition of over 200 groups will be behind the Commission and legislators every step of the way to ensure our call for a strong small donor matched public financing system is heard and this ultimately means an increased measure of accountability like fusion voting,” said Jawanza James Williams, Director of Organizing at VOCAL-NY. 

“Working people have been demanding a more fair system of representation in New York State for decades. Labor unions like 32BJ have helped to level the playing field, but big companies have been using their wealth to wield and unfair amount of political power, diminishing the voices of working people who know what their communities need most,” said Shirley Aldebol, vice president of 32BJ SEIU. “A stronger public financing system will ensure that government listen to constituents and working people can afford to run for office to represent their own communities.”

Right now, profit-driven corporate interests hold far too much power in Albany and have gotten away with blocking progress towards creating a universal healthcare system that works for all New Yorkers. If we want healthcare that works for people, we need a democracy that’s accountable to the people.  Public financing of elections would ensure all kinds of New Yorkers are heard in Albany, not just those writing the biggest checks,” said Katie Robbins, Director, Campaign for NY Health.

“As a parent, I see the impact our kids face when big money has an outsized influence on government and politics,” said Tom Sheppard, Parent Leader at the Alliance for Quality Education. “Parents and teachers spend hundreds of dollars on back to school supplies, but millionaires are not paying their fair share in taxes. Our schools are in need of repairs and updated technology, but corporations get huge tax breaks and government handouts. It’s time we tax millionaires and fully fund our schools. It’s time our elected officials advance policies that protect children, families and their communities, not the wealthy and 1 percent. This is why we need to empower parents by implementing a small donor matching system statewide.” 

What the editorial boards are saying

New York Times Editorial: “The state commission was also tasked with scrutinizing fusion voting, a practice that allows multiple parties to appear on the ballot and direct votes to a single candidate. The commission would be wise to sidestep specific recommendations on this complicated issue and instead focus on helping put into place the strongest possible public financing plan for New York.”

Daily News Editorial: “Don’t dare tell New York State that if it wants to weaken the power of big money in political campaigns, it has to simultaneously destroy minor parties.

Times Union Editorial: “This isn’t the time or place to confront the issue [of fusion voting]. It has almost nothing to do with public financing of campaigns…The commission has much more important matters to deal with.”

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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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