With the airwaves awash in ads paid for mostly by special interests, this is the time for New Yorkers to commit to changing that system and returning political power to the people, where it belongs.
Campaign finance reform promises to flip the Albany script by encouraging political participation and curbing corruption by matching the contributions of small donors. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has backed reforms, but has not offered details of a plan. He has said the topic could be dealt with by lawmakers if they return to Albany for a special session after the election.
The idea should be wholeheartedly supported.
New York State has one of the highest political contribution limits in the country, capping out at more than $60,000 per person, and also has a large share of weak-kneed politicians beholden to those big-spending contributors and special interests.
New York City has passed a law allowing public funding of elections in order to strengthen the role of small contributors. That law provides $6 in public money for each dollar, up to $175, contributed by city residents. Participation is voluntary.
The Assembly has several times passed legislation that follows the same 6-to-1 model, while applying it to amounts up to $250. State Senate Republicans predictably have taken the position that they are not in favor of spending taxpayer money on elections, which sounds right but totally misses the point. Reforming the state’s campaign finance system could curb cronyism and special deals to campaign donors, and restore some confidence in the State Legislature.
The Campaign Finance Institute has estimated that a 6-to-1 matching system would cost New Yorkers about $2 per person, per year. Public financing will pay off for taxpayers in a more democratic election system where candidates can win a seat without becoming beholden to the wealthiest donors.
The overwhelming sentiment is that the current system driving Albany’s “pay to play” environment needs to end. Few elected officials like making those fundraising calls, or feel comfortable with the kinds of agreements they are making. Fighting change is a contingent of politicians comfortable with the status quo and afraid a change, even for the public good, won’t work for them.
A fair election system with public financing that increases the impact of small donations can restore power to the people of the state. Campaigns fueled by small donations will result in legislators who are responsive and accountable to the voters, and there lies the chance for a real culture change in Albany.