The New York Daily News
Fmr. US Senator Bill Bradley
May 22, 2013
Politics is often described as the art of the possible. However, these days our political system seems utterly incapable of meeting our most vexing challenges, much less operating in a way in which the possible has any hope of becoming reality. We live in an age of hyperpartisanship and corrosive distrust of our most basic institutions.
Fortunately, there are reforms — pragmatic ones, well within our reach — that can reconnect voters to their elected officials and improve our democracy.
In this state, which right now is particularly plagued by distrust of government, the single policy change that would make the most profound and immediate difference is campaign finance reform.
New York legislators have an unprecedented opportunity this session to cast a vote to improve democracy by enacting a small-donor system of matching public funding of elections. Gov. Cuomo has consistently signaled his strong support for reform, and the Assembly this year passed legislation establishing a system of public funding of statewide elections.
As a former U.S. senator who witnessed firsthand the outsize influence that big donors and connected special interests have in Washington, I applaud these efforts to create a more positive future for our politics. Everyday New Yorkers deserve to be heard in Albany.
Special-interest money has played such a pervasive role in politics for so long, we often think we’re powerless to change it. Candidates are so desperate for cash, they ask moneyed interests for support — then, inevitably, do their bidding once in office.
And even if they don’t do their bidding, it’s more than reasonable for the public to suspect that the men and women they elect have been profoundly compromised by the process.
Changing the calculus — by providing a taxpayer-funded match to every legitimate small donation — would provide an alternative to the money chase that occupies countless hours of fund-raising and dialing for dollars for challengers and incumbents alike.
Running for office in New York is very costly. That contributes to the troubling culture of dependence on large contributions that’s so prevalent in Albany today. New York’s current laws are built for the big donor. Individuals can contribute $60,800 to a single statewide candidate. That’s more than 10 times the limit for presidential candidates.
Supporters of 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, creating instead an approach based upon small donations from constituents matched with public funds.
Inspiration for reform can be found in the highly successful matching system that has been available in New York City for candidates for mayor, controller, public advocate, borough president and City Council since 1989. This approach encourages electoral competition while greatly increasing the participation of small donors and curtailing the influence of special interests.
Three states — Connecticut, Arizona and Maine — offer candidates for public office the opportunity to compete in roughly the same way. The result, more often than not, is that qualified people from all walks of life are able to serve, and the relationship between money and politics is greatly reduced. All voters have the opportunity to be in control of their government, not just 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. This state can be a beacon for the nation. I urge the New York Legislature to respond to the strong desire of the people of the state by enacting public funding of elections this year.
Bradley, a former U.S. senator from New Jersey, is co-chairman of Americans for Campaign Reform and a member of NY LEAD, a statewide campaign finance reform advocacy coalition.