March 12, 2012
To the Editor:
New York legislators have an unprecedented opportunity to cast a vote to improve democracy this spring by enacting a small-donor system of public funding of elections.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled his strong support for this reform, stating earlier this year that “we must reconnect the people to the political process and their government.”
As a former member of Congress who witnessed firsthand the outsized influence that big donors and connected special interests have in Washington, D.C., I applaud and support the efforts of my fellow New Yorkers to create a more positive future for our politics.
I am 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. A system of public funding of elections would provide a refreshing and much-needed alternative to the money chase, the “dialing for dollars” and the countless hours of fundraising that all candidates today must be a part of.
The current campaign finance system is a distraction, taking valuable time away from the jobs that voters elected their representatives to address.
Running for office in New York can be very costly, and contributes to the culture of dependence on large campaign contributions so prevalent today in Albany and Washington. Unfortunately, in this environment, candidates are required to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy courting special interests and wealthy contributors for the funds necessary to finance their campaigns, even as many of those donors have business before them.
Fortunately, Cuomo is pointing the way toward a different path, a positive alternative that puts voters in the driver’s seat of democracy by upending the reliance of candidates on large donations and special interests, and creates a campaign finance system based upon small donations from constituents matched with public funds. Indeed, public funding of elections is the key reform to create a “New Albany” and a better political system.
Inspiration for reform can be found in the highly successful voluntary public funding of elections available for candidates in New York City since 1989. This approach to running for office enjoys wide public support, encouraging electoral competition while greatly increasing the participation of small donors and curtailing the influence of special interests.
In addition, three states offer candidates for public office the opportunity to compete in this way — Connecticut, Arizona and Maine. Qualified people from all walks of life are able to serve, and the relationship between money and politics is greatly reduced. Voters have the opportunity to control their government, not just the wealthy and connected few.
New York citizens of all political views have a shared interest in a government that is accountable, effective, transparent and truly representative. I am proud to stand with the members of a new coalition called New York LEAD — Leadership for Accountable Government — comprised of business and community leaders across the state who strongly endorse small-donor public funding of elections and are ready to rally support for this needed and fundamental reform.
Both Washington, D.C., and Albany are in need of transformative change in how our leaders are elected. I urge the Legislature to respond to Cuomo’s leadership by supporting his call for public funding of elections.
Former Congressman Mike Arcuri represented the 24th Congressional District in Upstate New York. He now is with the Hancock and Estabrook law firm in Syracuse.