Campaign Finance Reform Legislation Would Bring Fair Elections to New York
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Election Law Committee Chairman Michael Cusick today announced they have introduced legislation to bring fair elections to New York by reforming the state’s antiquated campaign finance laws and creating a public financing system for all state offices, shifting the focus of elections to the substance of the issues and candidates – not the money used to fund them.
Supported by community groups, businesses, good government organizations, faith leaders, and labor, the 2012 Fair Elections Act (A.9885) creates an optional public financing system for primary, general, and special election campaigns that covers all statewide offices, state legislative offices, and constitutional convention delegates. The bill also provides meaningful enforcement measures for candidates who opt into the system.
“Fair elections go to the heart of our democracy and are essential to preserving good government,” said Speaker Silver. “In light of the devastating effects the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has had on federal elections, we in New York should be leading the way in reducing the influence of money in our own elections. Let us be the model for the rest of the nation in establishing and preserving fair elections.”
The legislation reforms the system by allowing candidates for state office who meet the necessary requirements and reach the eligibility threshold in their fundraising to receive matching contributions of $6 for every $1 they raise on contributions of up to $250. The bill requires candidates to have a broad array of contributors by requiring a certain number of small-dollar donors – natural persons from a candidate’s district – to ensure that large-dollar donors do not have undue influence. Public funds would be capped at a specific limit depending on the office being sought.
Underscoring the importance of the substance of campaigns and not the money that funds them, candidates receiving public financing who are running opposed would be required to participate in at least one debate before the primary election and one debate before the general election. These debates would be open to all candidates, regardless of funding.
The bill also provides mechanisms for funding, including an income tax check-off of $5 that would be deposited into the newly-created “New York State Campaign Finance Fund” and an additional 10 percent surcharge on recoveries from fraudulent practices relating to stocks, bonds and other securities.
The Assembly has long championed campaign finance reform. In 1986, as chair of the Election Law Committee, Speaker Silver authored a bill in support of public election financing that has repeatedly passed the Assembly.
“NY Lead was formed because we believe not only that campaign finance reform is the right thing for New York, but that reform is achievable now,” said Sean Eldridge, President of Hudson River Ventures and a founding member of NY Leadership for Accountable Government (NY Lead). “We applaud the Assembly for its longstanding support of fair elections and thank Speaker Silver and Assembly Member Cusick for their leadership on achieving reform this session.”
“Speaker Silver’s announcement is a heartening next step forward for reform in New York State. His leadership makes a huge difference,” said Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “This year, we have seen new and broad support from business, labor, faith and civic leaders. We are united in supporting small donor public funding with meaningful enforcement and other needed changes in New York’s law. This bill’s public financing provisions are especially noteworthy. We look forward to working with Speaker Silver, Governor Cuomo and leaders from all parties as this bill moves through the legislative process. Today is an important, exciting step.”
“We commend the Speaker’s longstanding commitment to reforming our elections system,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “There’s no question that CEO campaign contributors have had too much control over our elections for too long. New Yorkers are fortunate to have always had the Assembly as an ally in the fight for Fair Elections. With the introduction of this bill, one more piece is in place to ensure that Fair Elections becomes law in New York State.”
“Voters are cynical about government because of the corrupting influence of money in politics. Average people can’t compete against high dollar donations, and lose trust in a government determined by the highest bidder. We need fair elections to restore our democracy and ensure the meaningful participation of all New Yorkers. We look forward to working with Speaker Silver and Assembly Member Cusick to pass this bill,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
“In the post-Citizens United world, there’s not much hope for Washington-based reform of our money-drenched political process,” said Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the Working Families Party. “This makes Albany all the more important, and the Speaker’s leadership will one day be seen as a turning point in the effort to salvage American democracy.”
“New Yorkers are ready for elected officials to change our big money system and lift up the voice of everyday people in the political process. We commend Speaker Silver for introducing this legislation, which, if passed, could turn him and New York into national reform leaders,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign.