January 18, 2012
Of the many ideas Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed in his State of the State message, one that he needs to keep on the front burner is a push for voluntary public financing of political campaigns.
Changing the way campaigns are financed is the best way to take away the big-money influence of lobbyists on state officials.
Campaign finance reform was among Cuomo’s goals when he was running for office in 2010. As a candidate, he said the current system allows wealthy campaign donors to have a louder voice than average citizens.
But it didn’t happen last year, and Cuomo says he intends to pursue it this year. In addition to the push for voluntary funding of campaigns, the governor would lower amounts for top donations and raise the level of accountability for how any public money is spent.
The state’s elected officials have talked about campaign finance reform for years, but it’s been stalled by one political logjam after another.
Republicans and Democrats — depending on who’s in the minority — have criticized one another for dragging their feet on reform, with majority members not quite willing to give up the fat campaign donations from deep-pocketed contributors looking for favors.
The Washington-based Campaign Finance Institute has cited three incentives for getting small donors to participate in elections.
— Small donors are more representative of the public at large, which isn’t surprising, since few can write big campaign contribution checks.
— Small donors are interested in candidates’ positions, while large donors are far more interested in their own commercial or legislative interests.
— Small donors are more likely to “buy into” the candidates’ campaigns and that there is some evidence that such participation leads to greater participation in civic life generally.
The average New Yorker has neither the money nor connections to seek public office, and this greatly diminishes the pool of candidates. That means no matter how talented or skilled you might be, if you don’t have deep pockets or political connections, you should forget running for public office.
Publicly financed campaigns could help level the playing field. Gov. Cuomo should push to make that happen this year.