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Hundreds Rally for Stalled NY Public Campaign Finance Bill

Karen DeWitt

Hundreds gathered at the State Capitol to rally for public financing of political campaigns. The measure remains in limbo in the State Senate and Governor Cuomo faces questions on whether he’s working hard enough for the proposal to pass.
They came in busses from all over New York to give state lawmakers their message- big money is corrupting politics. They say the state should adopt New York City’s public campaign finance system, which allows candidates to match every dollar they collect in small donations with seven dollars of government funds.

The crowd heard from State Comptroller Tom Napoli, who says under public campaign financing, regular people, who are shut out of the system now, could run for election.  He says donors to the Comptroller’s race can donate $19,000 for the primary and  $41,000 for the general election, which is more than the median family income in New York of $55,000.  
“That’s outrageous,” DiNapoli said. “No wonder people feel that they don’t have power.”
Comptroller DiNapoli was the only statewide elected official to speak at the rally. Governor Cuomo, a supporter of public campaign financing,  was invited to speak, organizers say, but he declined.
 The governor instead was presiding over his sixth press conference in a week on his proposal to create tax free zones for businesses at college campuses.
“We’re dealing with a massive problem when we’re talking about the upstate economy,” Cuomo said.  “And it is going to take a massive solution.”
Some have raised questions on whether the governor has worked hard enough to promote public campaign financing.  He has not held any public events on the issue, though he has released bills outlining other reform measures. Cuomo recently defended his lack of legislation on public campaign financing this way.
“Do they want a press release or do they want something passed?” he asked. “We don’t have an agreement on the public finance reform package. And I’m working towards it.”
Cuomo says he still has not determined whether a bill can get on the floor in the Senate, or if there enough votes currently to pass it. Senate Republicans, who co lead the chamber,  say public campaign financing is a waste of the tax payers money and will only lead to more corruption.

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, agrees with the governor. She says the fact that the proposal is still “fluid” gives her hope for passage this session.

“In another legislature I might be concerned. But in New York that’s the way things happen,” said Lerner who said she sees it as a “positive” sign.

State Comptroller DiNapoli self-imposes some limits on campaign donations. But Cuomo, along with other state lawmakers, continues to play within the current rules for campaigning funding. Many are holding fundraisers asking for the still perfectly legal large donations.

The governor  has scheduled a major fundraiser just after the end of session, on June 25th, featuring singer Paul Simon. Top tickets will be $50,000.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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