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NY Campaign Finance Body To Hold Meeting On State Holiday

New York state Capitol
Jim Levulis

A New York commission tasked with developing a plan to publicly finance state election campaigns will hold a special meeting on Columbus Day. Meanwhile, the state legislature is considering whether to return to the Capitol in December for a special session to potentially reverse some of the commission’s anticipated decisions.   

Under the rules, the commission is supposed to issue its recommendations on how to implement a public campaign financing system by December 1. If lawmakers don’t act to change the recommendations, they automatically become law by the end of the year.

Members of the commission, appointed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature, has also been looking at whether to end fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple party lines. Many Democratic and Republican state lawmakers rely on the additional endorsements from left or right leaning minor political parties to win election, want to keep fusion voting. 

Cuomo’s appointee and State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, who has acted as defacto chair of the panel, spoke against the practice during a recent commission hearing.

“This about the process that is in many areas of the state as unpleasantly corrupting as other aspects of campaign finance and the rest are in the state,” Jacobs said on September 18.

Cuomo says he’s neutral on whether to end cross party endorsements. The governor has feuded with the Working Families Party, which often backs left leaning Democratic candidates. It initially backed Cuomo’s primary challenger Cynthia Nixon in the 2018 elections, before switching to Cuomo in the general election.

The New York Daily Newsfirst reported that state lawmakers are considering holding a special session in December if the commission decides to end fusion voting.

A source in the legislature confirms that there have been discussions about a possible special session, depending on the commission’s recommendations. But the source acknowledges that there’s an obstacle to the Senate and Assembly potentially reversing or amending the commission’s decisions. Democrats who lead the Senate don’t have enough votes to override a potential veto from Governor Cuomo, without help from GOP Senators. Republican legislative leaders have called the commission an “unconstitutional abdication of authority" and are against ending fusion voting. The GOP is also against the public financing of campaigns.

Republican legislative leaders have joined lawsuits by the Working Families Party and the State’s Conservative Party challenging the commission’s authority to address fusion voting.

Alex Camarda, with the government reform group Reinvent Albany, says fusion voting is not the only issue that could torpedo the commission's recommendations.

Camarda says New York’s high campaign contribution limits, which are among the most generous in the nation, need to be lowered significantly, even for candidates who decide not to participate in a public system. He says otherwise, there might not be enough reasons for candidates to choose the small donor matching program.

“Fewer candidates would opt-in to the public financing system,” Camarda said. “It’s a disincentive to participate, and if few candidates participate in the system, it’s going to be a weaker system that won’t be able to stand up on its own." 

Camarda and other reform groups have written the commission a letter, saying they would like the commission to make public any drafts of its work by November 1, one month before its report is due. So far, they’ve received no response.

Representatives of the reform groups plan to be at Monday’s meeting, which will be held in Westchester. They say they are concerned, though, that because Monday is a state holiday, participation might be limited.

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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