Here are straightforward answers to questions you may have about campaign finance reform in New York State:

Q: Why do we need comprehensive reform of New York’s campaign finance laws?

A: New York State’s current “pay to play” culture has reinforced the perception that our government is beholden to entrenched special interests and not the people. Comprehensive reforms, which  include a small donor matching system, will put the needs of real voters — the business owners and workers who drive New York’s economy — back on the agenda. It will reduce the influence of the select few who can spend enormous amounts of money on electioneering to gain outsize influence over government policy.  A fair elections system will end the wasteful arms race that forces so many businesses and business owners to siphon more and more money into politics.

Q: Under existing law, who are the biggest campaign donors in Albany?

A: Recent analysis of top donors from 2011 and 2012 shows that lobbyists and entrenched special interests are dominating the playing field.

Q: I know my vote is supposed to count the same as everyone else, so why do I feel like the concerns of ordinary New Yorkers aren’t being heard in Albany?

A: In Albany, money talks. Current campaign finance laws allow some of the largest limits for donations to state races in the nation.  Unless we reform the campaign finance system, large contributions will continue to drown out the voice of regular citizens.

Q.  What campaign finance reforms is NY LEAD proposing?

A:  In order to reform Albany and improve the fairness and integrity of our political process, NY LEAD endorses a system of public financing for New York State elections as the centerpiece of a campaign finance law overhaul.  We support Governor Cuomo’s plan for campaign finance reform outlined in his January 4, 2012 State of the State Address. It includes:

  • A voluntary “multiple match” public financing system, modeled on New York City’s successful program, that will encourage candidates to fund their campaigns through a broad base of small donors.
  • Lower contribution limits and the closure of contribution loopholes.
  • Even lower contribution limits for corporations and individuals who do business with the state of New York.
  • A new enforcement unit in the State Board of Elections with the independence and authority to investigate alleged violations.

Q: It sounds good, but does reform really stand a chance?

A: There is new hope for real change in Albany. Governor Cuomo, in his 2012 State of the State message, forcefully called upon the Legislature to enact public funding of elections. A recent Siena poll found that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support the Governor’s plan and edi­torial boards across the state have echoed the call for reform.

Q: Does it really make sense to spend public money on politicians at a time of budget cuts and fiscal challenges?

A: Albany is broken, and inaction costs businesses and taxpayers real money every day.

Q: Doesn’t public financing benefit incumbents and reinforce the status quo?

A:  No, in fact the opposite is true.  Studies of public financing have shown that it promotes competition by encouraging fresh faces to run successfully for office, and narrowing the gap between incumbents and challengers. This reinforces accountability in elections.

Q: How do we ensure that public financing isn’t wasted on frivolous candidates?

A: Because it’s a matching-fund plan, the mechanics of the system will guarantee that public funds go only to candidates who demonstrate broad support from voters.

Q: Does public financing benefit some candidates more than others—for example, favoring liberals over conservatives, or Democrats over Republicans?

A: No. Public financing has been used successfully by candidates across the political spectrum—Democrats, Republicans and minor parties.

Q: Doesn’t public financing leave candidates vulnerable to massive attacks by outside spenders?

A:  The ability of outside groups to invest massive amounts of money in campaigns is a fact of life after Citizens United – and it is something we all should be concerned about.  But this is a problem that affects all campaigns, and there’s no evidence that publicly financed candidates are any worse off than privately financed politicians. Public financing works, because what matters is making sure candidates can get their message out to the voters.

Q:  How does public financing prevent corruption?

A:  Public financing allows elected officials to vote based on their conscience and the public interest, without worrying about offending big donors.  As former Arizona Governor (and current Homeland Security Secretary) Janet Napolitano once explained in a discussion of Arizona’s landmark prescription drug plan:

If I had not run [using public financing], I would surely have been paid visits by numerous campaign contributors representing pharmaceutical interests and the like, urging me either to shelve that idea or to create it in their image.  All the while, they would be wielding the implied threat to yank their support and shop for an opponent in four years.  [Instead,] I was able to create this program based on one and only one variable: the best interests of Arizona’s senior citizens.

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