© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In crowded race for New York state Assembly’s 109th district, differing approaches to fundraising

The New York State Capitol
Dave Lucas
The New York State Capitol

Public campaign financing is a factor in the crowded race for New York's 109th district Assembly seat.

The 109th district seat is being vacated by Pat Fahy, who has opted to run for fellow-Democrat Neil Breslin's 46th district Senate seat after Breslin decided to retire after 14 terms.

Since the last election cycle, a new law has been passed allowing campaign finance matching from state funds. Candidates from all political parties in this year’s state legislative elections are the first eligible to receive matching funds under New York state's voluntarily public campaign financing program.

New York Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Blair Horner says the new system gives challengers the opportunity to raise big bucks to run for office.

"The whole system is designed to reward candidates who get a large number of small donations that are then matched by the public financing system," Horner said. "In that way. Lawmakers I mean, candidates who get elected to office become lawmakers are relying on a large number of small donors, and not one of them can influence, down the road, public policy. The current system is the reverse of that, I mean the system outside of public financing is the reverse of that. Because you're relying on usually a small number of large donors. So in this case, we think the public financing enhances the ability of challengers and grassroots candidates to run for office. And we also believe that it creates a campaign financing system that relies on a much broader number of average New Yorkers than as as compared to the wallets of a select few of wealthy donors." 

Contributions between $5 and $250 may qualify after meeting certain criteria. The 109th is one of several districts where the median household income is below the state's median household income, so a $6,000 minimum monetary threshold for eligibility gets reduced by one-third, cutting the monetary threshold for the 109th to $4,000 raised from 75 unique in-district donors.

Republican Alicia Purdy is among the hopefuls. "That brings you to the $0 threshold for matching. And once donations come in, they've got to be from within your district, and you submit them to the state. And the state will examine the donation, make sure that it does fit the criteria, and then they will distribute matching funds within about four days," said Purdy. 

Albany County Legislator Dustin Reidy of the 30th district is also running, facing-off against a half-dozen fellow-Democrats in the June 25th primary. Reidy says matching funds help level the playing field.

 “It's important to have the resources to get your message out. And you need to have the right message to get out to voters. With public financing this year, it also makes having support from the folks you will be representing in your district, all the more important, because with public financing, their voices are amplified to a significant degree. A $5 contribution becomes a $65 contribution with the matching funds, the maximum contribution that can be made in this program from an in-district donor is $250. And that contribution becomes a $2,550 contribution with the matching funds," Reidy said. 

Matching occurs on a tiered system, a sliding scale from 12 times a donation all the way to about six times a donation.

The law allows for Assembly candidates to receive up to $350,000. Purdy says candidates and their supporters need to pay close attention to the rules and be sure they have met the unique-donors threshold as they navigate through the process.

“Even I have had some donors who thought they were doing the right thing by giving me $250. However, unfortunately, it was not a match. They were not in my specific district, and I had not yet met the threshold ,” Purdy said. 

Reidy says he has met the threshold. “I'm proud to have the level of support from contributors that we have with the public matching funds. Right now, my campaign will have a little over $200,000 on hand to get our message out.”

109th district candidates Ginnie Farrell, Gabriella Romero and Owusu Anane — all Democrats on the Albany Common Council — have met requirements to receive public matching funds.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.