Sean Eldridge: Launching NY LEAD

Sean Eldridge, President, Hudson River Ventures:

Good afternoon.

My name is Sean Eldridge, and I am the president of Hudson River Ventures, a small business investment fund focused on the Hudson Valley.

Last month, in his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo made an impassioned call for campaign finance reform and public funding in New York State.  And we are here today to answer his call and help make his bold reforms a reality.

There is no question that New York’s campaign finance system is broken.  Under our current system, contribution limits are absurdly high.  Individuals can contribute more than $50,000 to candidates in a statewide election.  And unlimited contributions are allowed to political party’s so-called “Housekeeping” funds.

Our current system is bad for business.  It fuels cronyism and pay-to-play antics, and it wastes taxpayer dollars on special interest projects.

Most importantly, our current system is bad for our democracy.  Earlier this month, a New York Public Interest Research Group study showed that almost $17 million dollars in campaign contributions came from just 127 donors, who contributed $50,000 or more.

Under the existing system, elected officials are encouraged to spend their time with the wealthy and the well-connected, and to cater to the special interests of very few, instead of the constituents who put them in office.

Our current campaign finance system is built for the big donor, not for the average voter.

And New Yorkers know that.  Many have lost faith in their state government and the idea that their voice counts, and their vote counts.  As a result, New York now ranks 48th out of 50 in voter turnout.

It’s time for a change.

Which is why today I am proud to announce the launch of New York Leadership for Accountable Government, a bipartisan group of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders who have come together to advocate for comprehensive campaign finance reform in the Empire State.

Our group is not comprised of the typical Albany players.  The membership of NY LEAD includes senior executives of Fortune 500 companies, civic leaders, renowned philanthropists, ambassadors, entrepreneurs, and religious leaders.  You can find the complete list on our website: www.nylead.org.

NY LEAD stands with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who support Governor Cuomo’s plan for campaign finance reform, and we will use our voices, our time, and our networks to help make that plan a reality.

Campaign finance reform with public matching funds will give voters a louder voice and ensure that they are the only constituency that our elected representatives serve.  It will grow trust in our state government and encourage more New Yorkers to participate in the political process.  It will ensure that running for public office is a realistic dream for all New Yorkers, not just career politicians and the very wealthy.  And it will save taxpayer dollars by reducing cronyism, special interest projects, and pay-to-play antics.

As some of you know, I’ve been a national advocate for marriage equality, and I spent much of last year fighting for the successful marriage equality bill here in New York.  While marriage equality is a different issue from campaign finance in many ways, this underlying principle is the same: When our elected officials work together in a bipartisan manner, when they listen to their constituents, and when they reflect on the facts and the long-term interests of the public, they can make history. And they can show that on its best days, our democracy works.

Albany can shine once again.  And lead the nation again, by embracing campaign finance reform that will strengthen our democracy and empower all citizens.