Fair elections are the heart of this country’s democracy and fundamental to preserving good government. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has had devastating effects on federal elections, shining light on the need for New York to reduce the influence of money in our own state elections.
That’s why I’m supporting a landmark bill that would establish New York State as a national leader in campaign finance reform. The legislation provides a regulatory system of optional public financing for all state-office primary, general and special election campaigns — returning the focus of elections to the substance of the issues and candidates (A.9885).
An Assembly candidate would have to raise $10,000 from 100 New York State residents to be eligible for the public funding — $5,000 from 50 individual contributors in their specific Assembly District — with $250 from each individual contributor counting toward the total. For every dollar raised in private donations, the state would match $6, up to $150,000. Other offices would have similar regulations and matching limits.
The legislation imposes no limit on the total amount of private funds a candidate could raise, but disallows any single private donor from contributing more than $2,000 to a campaign. This would have a profound impact on how campaigns are funded and it would benefit East End voters. Capping private donors and requiring a broad array of small contributors would help level the playing field.
The legislation would also require any candidate receiving public financing to participate in debates where all candidates are welcome, regardless of funding sources. Lesser-known candidates would receive an unprecedented amount of exposure and voters would get the best chance to learn the differences between candidates and who best represents their interests.
This reform would be a giant step toward an election system every New Yorker could be proud of. The legislation also provides means for funding. Drawing from the $3 federal income tax check-off for presidential campaigns, New York would add a voluntary $5 income tax check-off for state elections, with no additional burden on the individual. The money would then be deposited into the newly created “New York State Campaign Finance Fund.” An additional 10 percent surcharge from securities fraud and settlements collected by the state attorney general would also be used.
The Assembly has a longstanding tradition of supporting campaign finance reform. When our election laws were first established, no one could have foreseen the emergence of high-dollar donors and their effect on the political process. I strongly support instituting a system that produces a fair and equitable competition to represent the people of New York State.