Fmr. Upstate Congressmen Boehlert and Murphy in Times-Union: Public Funding Only Way to Fix NY Politics [Op-Ed]

Public Funding Only Way to Fix NY Politics

Albany Times-Union

By Sherwood Boehlert and Scott Murphy

January 24, 2012

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled his strong support for campaign finance reform and asked the legislature to enact a small donor system of voluntary public funding of elections.

As he stated in his State of the State, “we must reconnect the people to the political process and their government.”

We welcome this initiative and hope that it will help combat the cynicism and lack of faith that so many citizens ascribe to their government.

As former members of Congress who represented upstate New York, it is our view that campaign finance reform is the most effective avenue to (1) invigorate the voice of the individual in our democracy, and (2) restore a relationship of trust between citizens and their government.

Our personal experiences in Washington with the present campaign finance system have left us deeply concerned about the corrosive role that private money plays in political campaigns and the legislative process, both in our nation’s capital and in Albany. While we represent different political parties, our concerns about the undermining effects of our current campaign finance system to the healthy functioning of our democracy are shared, as is our commitment to its improvement.

Running for office in New York has become very costly and contributes to the culture of dependence on big money that is so prevalent in Albany. Candidates for office spend inordinate amounts of time and energy courting special interests and wealthy individuals that are able to provide the funds necessary for election and re-election, even if those very donors have business before them.

Special interests and large donors have access and influence in both Washington and Albany to dominate our policies creating an imbalance between the voices of citizens and those of special interests. Cuomo envisions a different path, as his plan would upend the reliance of candidates on big donors and special interests and create a campaign finance system based upon small donations from constituents matched with public funds.

Public funding of elections is the key reform needed to create a “New Albany.” It would ensure that any candidate who forgoes large donations from wealthy individuals and special interests would have enough financial resources to run a competitive campaign. It would help return the rightful control of the political process to citizens, and act as a force to re-balance the relationship between legislator and those who put them in office.

Lawmakers would be allowed to focus on what they came to Albany to do — serve the broad public interest and make decisions that are in the best interest of the people of New York, not the connected few.

Inspiration for reform in Albany can be found in the highly successful voluntary public funding of elections system that has been available for candidates for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, and City Council in New York City since 1989. The program enjoys wide public support, encouraging electoral competition while significantly increasing the participation of small donors and curtailing the influence of special interests.

Support for reform continues to grow among voters, political and business leaders. To help achieve meaningful reform, we are working to build a broad-based movement for change. We strongly endorse small donor public funding of elections and are ready to rally support for political leaders who make this reform a priority. Both Washington and Albany need fundamental campaign finance reform. We urge the Legislature to respond to Governor Cuomo’s leadership by supporting his call for public funding of elections.

The public is ready, and the time is now.

Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican, and Scott Murphy, a Democrat, represented the 23rd and 20th Congressional districts respectively in upstate New York.

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