(Reinvent Albany is a member of the Fair Elections campaign (https://fairelectionsny.org/) and contributed the two reports cited below.)
Fair Elections Campaign Praises Commission’s Appointment, Urges Transparency, Public Process and Model Reforms
Albany July 3, 2019– Today, the Governor, Senate and Assembly finally appointed commissioners to the Public Financing Commission. In response, the Fair Elections Campaign released the following statement, urging transparency, a public process and model reforms:
“New York needs a strong people-powered small donor public financing program to make sure the voices of everyday New Yorkers are heard loud and clear in the halls of Albany. The current system prioritizes wealthy donors and special interests, the majority of whom are white and male, rather than constituents. The Legislature passed a bill recognizing the need for Fair Elections and delegated decision making to a commission. We look forward to working with the Commission as a whole to enact the strongest small donor system possible, one that lifts the voices of regular New Yorkers in our campaign finance system. We are eager to see them get to work quickly, hiring staff, engaging the public and creating a new public financing law that makes New York a model for the nation.
“We are hopeful the Commission finally ends the big money era in Albany. We want to see a fully-staffed, independent Commission that issues at least one preliminary report and holds public hearings in New York City, Albany and Syracuse. If the Commission listens to the experts who have looked at this issue over the decades, they will implement a robust matching system that offers at least six dollars in matching funds for every small dollar raised in primaries and general elections, lowers contribution limits and restores New Yorkers faith in democracy. If the Commission does not listen to these experts, the Legislature must step in and use its power to ‘amend or abrogate’ the Commission’s recommendations. We are too close to finally implementing people-powered elections in New York; we cannot turn back now.”
Big donors dominate New York’s elections. A recent analysis by the Brennan Center shows that just 100 people donated more to candidates in 2018 than all 137,000 estimated small donors combined. That analysis also showed that over 90% 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 Fair Elections campaign has argued that to ensure that the Commission is set up to implement the best policy solutions it should, among other things, be transparent, independent, provide sufficient opportunity for public input, avoid engaging in irrelevant topics like fusion voting, and be comprised of a diverse group of knowledgeable individuals who support public financing. The campaign has called for interim reports, multiple public hearings and a fully-staffed Commission. Otherwise, the Commission could create a weak law and let elected officials off the hook for their responsibility to ensure New York implements a real public financing system.
The Commission’s enabling statute specifically gives the Legislature a 20-day window to “amend or abrogate” the Commission’s recommendations once they are released in December. Given this, the Fair Elections coalition has recommended that the Legislature — the body elected by New Yorkers — is 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.