Campaign finance laws must include the public

New York State’s campaign finance laws have failed and must be changed.

The reforms we need must lower current contribution limits and close loopholes, increase disclosure, strengthen enforcement with sufficient penalties for violators and include a public financing component.

Opponents of reform have declared public financing to be a colossal waste of taxpayer money. To the contrary, New York City’s successful public finance system demonstrates how a well-run program works to benefit both candidates and citizens.

Small contributions up to a maximum of $175 are matched 6-to-1 with public funds, but only contributions from individual constituents are matched. Constituents contribute to candidates of their choice. Contributions from those outside a district, from lobbyists or those “doing business” with city government are not matched. Contributions from corporations are not accepted at all. Public matching funds can only be used for clearly defined campaign activities. The program is voluntary but both participants and nonparticipants must comply with all the law’s requirements.

The stated goal of the city’s public financing program has been to encourage greater citizen participation in the political process and to reduce the potential for corruption in public office. This seems like good public policy to me.

Public financing allows candidates of modest means but with strong grass roots support to compete more equitably for political office. Candidates spend less time chasing large donors and more time meeting with constituents. People become engaged when they know a candidate is paying attention to their concerns. When small contributions are matched, ordinary citizens, not wealthy donors, become more important.

Janet Massaro