Last push for campaign finance reform

Legislative Gazette photo by Ben Goldman
Sen. David Carlucci speaks at a “fair elections” rally in the Capitol on Thursday as reformers seek a publicly financed elections system and lower campaign contribution limits as part of the next state budget.

With the start of the new fiscal year coming on Monday, campaign finance reformers made a last push for smaller campaign contribution limits and publicly funded campaigns during a rally outside the governor’s office in the Capitol on Thursday.

About 40 members of the Fair Elections coalition — led by Citizen Action of New York and Make the Road New York along — along with a handful of lawmakers assembled in the War Room in the Capitol, waving signs and making speeches urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to include a small-donor matching system and campaign contribution limits in the next state budget, which is due April 1.

The coalition of more than 200 groups wants a campaign system where every dollar raised by a candidate is matched with $6 in state money so that more people would feel empowered to run for statewide offices. This would be coupled with lower campaign contribution limits to remove the influence of special interests and businesses in Albany.

“The next step we need to be creating a small donor matching system in New York State,” Assemblyman Robert Carroll said. “Because what that does is make sure that we are amplifying voices of the everyday citizens throughout the entire state of New York instead of allowing the uber-rich to put their mark on our democracy”

Fair Elections legislation is one of the top issues being debated as the Legislature and governor finalize the state budget. Editorial boards including the New York Times, Newsday, the Times-Union and the Syracuse Post-Standard have called for the proposal to be included in the final budget.

“We’ve gotta make sure that we are speaking up for the speechless…and let’s put our money where our mouth is,” said Sen. David Carlucci, who was also at the rally on Thursday.

The Assembly has passed similar campaign finance legislation in the past. The governor also made it a priority of his “Justice Agenda” for the current legislative session.

“You don’t have to use that big money private system anymore,” said Jessica Wisneski, co-executive director of Citizens Action. “Not if you put in this budget a system of small donor matching funds.”

According to the Campaign Finance Institute, the public financing of campaigns would cost between $26 and $41 million annually which would be less than one-tenth of one percent of the overall budget and approximately $2 per New Yorker per year.

During the rally, a recurring theme was the issue of political disenfranchisement of large numbers of New Yorkers, with the reformers and their legislative allies stressing that public financing of elections would level the playing field for both working class and underrepresented communities.

“Fair elections is about race and it’s about power,” Demos senior campaign strategist Amshula K. Jayaram said. “Over 90 percent of big donors are wealthy, they are white and they are male.”

“We are not going to leave here until we are sure that our campaign finance system is not an embarrassment to our country,” Sen. Andrew Gounardes.

Watch highlights from the rally here:

Video produced by Ben Goldman