New York Lawmakers Push For Public Financing Of Elections

Feb 14, 2014

Three New York Congressmen have joined forces in an effort to fight big money in elections.

Last week the House Democrats introduced a bill to create public financing of elections for federal elections. Just two weeks before that, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to create publicly financed elections for the state legislature and for all statewide offices.

Karen Scharff of the New York Fair Elections Campaign says that following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 that flooded the political system with a tsunami of money, it's time now for people who believe in democracy to fight back and make a change:  "Here in New York the fair elections campaign has been pressing very hard for the past three years to reform the pay to play culture in our state government with a very robust small donor matching system that would allow candidates to run for office with small donations rather than large contributions. “

With the inclusion of public funding of elections in his proposed state budget, Cuomo has made fair elections reform a top priority.

Representative Dan Maffei  of Syracuse feels the federal “Government by the People Act”  should be passed as soon as possible.  "It's an important piece of legislation that changes the way elections are financed by amplifying small donations through a public matching fund called the freedom from influence fund, modeled after a similar program in New York City."

Under the Big Apple's system, donations up to $175 are matched six-to-one. Proponents argue it has enabled smaller candidates to compete for office against well-funded rivals. 

New York City Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is a member of the judiciary committee:  "Right now running for Congress is an extremely expensive proposition. In most instances, even in New York it would cost at least a million dollars, and in some instances, 2,3,4, 5 million dollars in order to mount a credible candidacy."

Critics argue matching systems are easily abused and wouldn't stymie corruption or deflect the influence of special interests. I asked Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney whether the whole funding system is flawed due to the presence of political action committees and SuperPACS.    "In my race we were outspent by two million dollars. So message can beat money but, sometimes you feel like money gets half way around the world before message gets its shoes on. And I think the thing here is to level the playing field enough so that good candidates with broad support, a broad base of small donors, can compete."

On the whole, Republicans are cold to electoral reform, which means change may not come soon, if it comes at all.