Staten Island Advance: Public funding would boost state legislative races [Editorial]

Public funding would boost state legislative races

Staten Island Advance

March 22, 2014

A strong case can be made for extending to New York State legislative campaigns the type of access to public funding that is offered in New York City Council races.

Citizens Union does just that by comparing elections in New York City for the state Senate and Assembly to the local balloting for membership on the City Council.

A report by the good-government group shows that Council races offer voters a wider selection of candidates because of the city’s model public funds matching program.

CU found that state legislative elections within the City of New York feature a greater number of uncontested races, fewer candidates for voters to choose from, and incumbents who face less competition.

According to Rachael Fauss, the Citizens Union policy and research manager who wrote the just-issued report: “The shockingly high number of wholly uncontested races for state legislative seats in New York City — one in five — demonstrates the need for a sea change in the way in which campaigns are funded.”

There’s no reason to challenge that conclusion.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included a state campaign finance proposal in his executive budge. A public matching system modeled on Speaker Sheldon Silver’s legislation is part of the Assembly’s budget resolution.

“Voters deserve a campaign finance system that is fairer and creates greater voter choice and candidate competition,” claimed Ms. Fauss on behalf of Citizens Union.

Their survey found that 21 percent of all state legislative contests in New York City went uncontested in both the primary and general elections in the four cycles between 2006 and 2012.

Only 8 percent of City Council races were uncontested for the three cycles between 2005 and 2013.

Last year, 57 percent of incumbents were contested in City Council primaries. In 2012 state primaries, incumbents were challenged in New York City for only 27 percent of Assembly seats and 18 percent of Senate seats.

“Citizens Union’s report demonstrates the need for the state to enact comprehensive campaign finance reforms with public funding so that voters have greater choice and our democracy becomes healthier,” Dick Dadey, the group’s executive director, said.

The organization is calling for state reforms that include:

A public matching program that empowers small donors to legislative candidates.

Lower contribution limits for individual donors and political parties.

”Pay to play” limits on lobbyists.

Strong rules for candidates, parties and others on the disclosure of money in politics.

These would be steps in the right direction toward shaking up the incumbent-dominated state Legislature, a dysfunctional refuge of politics behind closed doors.

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