March 31, 2013
Politics is widely described as the art of the possible. However, these days our political system seems incapable of meeting our most significant challenges, or even operating in a way in which the possible has much hope to become public policy reality. We currently live in an age of hyper-partisanship, but there are reforms that citizens across the nation and here in New York support that can make a difference in re-connecting voters to their elected officials and improving our democracy – campaign finance reform foremost among them.
New York legislators have an unprecedented opportunity to cast a vote to improve democracy this session by enacting a small donor system of public funding of elections. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has once again signaled his strong support for reform, and there is significant support in both the state Senate and Assembly for this needed change. 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 the efforts of my fellow New Yorkers to create a more positive future for our politics. Everyday New Yorkers deserve to be heard in Albany, and now is the time for common-sense changes in our campaign finance laws.
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 an alternative to the money chase that occupies countless hours of fundraising and dialing for dollars for candidates and incumbents alike. 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 in Albany today as candidates for office spend inordinate amount 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 donors have business before them. Supporters of campaign finance reform are pointing the way toward 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 create 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.”
Inspiration for reform can be found in the highly successful voluntary public funding of elections system that has been available in New York City for candidates for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and city council 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 city government. 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 be in control of their government, not the 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 many fellow citizens as well as the members of New York LEAD – Leadership for Accountable Government, comprising business and community leaders across the state that strongly endorse small donor public funding of elections, and are ready to rally support for this needed and fundamental reform. Both Washington and Albany are in need of transformative change in how are leaders are elected. I urge the New York Legislature to respond to the strong desire of the people of New York by enacting public funding of elections this year.
Mike Arcuri represented New York’s 24th Congressional District from 2007-2011. He is currently of counsel to Hancock Estabrook, LLP, a Syracuse law firm.