Yesterday, the Senate passed budget bill S7508-B, which included legislation establishing a public campaign finance program and is expected to pass the Assembly soon. The program mirrors the state campaign finance commission’s recommendations from last year, which were tossed out by a judge in March. Below is Reinvent Albany’s original statement on the program from November 2019.
Commission’s Public Financing Program Is a Historic Missed Opportunity
Little Progress Curbing the Dominance of Big Money in New York
System Will Encourage More Candidates to Run and Boost Small Donors
Reinvent Albany views the final, legally binding program announced by the NY State Campaign Finance Commission as a historic missed opportunity to transform the state campaign finance system from a national embarrassment to “the best in the nation.”
We commend the Commission for discussing policy in public and actively engaging experts, including Reinvent Albany and other stakeholders. We also appreciate the Commission adopting our suggestion to provide a public match for only small contributions and not to match the first part of large contributions.
More broadly, the Commission deserves credit for establishing a public matching system that uses public funds to match contributions up to $250 to candidates with $1500 in statewide contests and $2300 in state legislative races. This will give small donors more of a voice and encourage more people to run for office. Importantly, the Commission also significantly reduced contribution limits from their astronomical current levels.
Unfortunately, while better than the abominable status quo, the Commission’s proposal does not reduce the dominance of big money enough to earn Reinvent Albany’s support. Despite repeated calls from anti-corruption experts and advocates, the Commission proposed sky-high contribution limits – $18,000 per election cycle for Governor compared to $5,600 for President or $5,100 for nonparticipating candidates for Mayor of New York City – and left in place gargantuan loopholes, such as allowing six-figure contributions to party committees. The Commission also ignored repeated requests from Reinvent Albany and the Fair Elections coalition to restrict contributions from people doing business with the state – a basic anti-corruption safeguard. The Commission also left the deeply flawed State Board of Elections to enforce the new system, even though all five states that provide public funds for legislative campaigns have independent campaign finance agencies.
Sadly, this historic opportunity to transform New York’s wretched campaign finance system was badly undermined by the unnecessary distraction of the political vendetta against fusion voting.
In sum, the Commission took some steps forward to change a truly bad status quo, but ignored the enormous public outcry to fundamentally reduce the role of big money.