Williams, advocates call for fair election financing

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams with broad coalition of advocates outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
Office of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams on Thursday joined a broad coalition of advocates outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office to demand fair election financing as the state’s Public Financing Commission is approaching the deadline to put forth its plan for implementing a public financing system for legislative and statewide elections.

Advocates have raised concerns throughout the public hearing process that the commission’s recommendations will allow for high dollar donations and limit the participation of third parties.

During the rally, the public advocate called on the Commission to make several changes to the plan as currently reported, including halving all contribution limits, regulatory restrictions, an oversight body, the removal of heightened ballot qualification thresholds for third party organizations and implementation of the program by the 2022 elections.

“With just a week left, the Public Campaign Financing Commission’s current plan will not empower people through fair elections,” Williams said. Instead, it would protect the people in power.

“In 2018, the top 100 donors gave more money than all 137,000 donors combined,” he added. “That’s absurd, and the plan that Gov. Cuomo and Jay Jacobs support will not do nearly enough to change a system that gives the wealthiest people control.

“Advocates, legislators, leaders, know that we have an opportunity to create a public financing system that uplifts the voices of all New Yorkers; but, as it stands, it will instead serve as an incumbency protection program,” Williams continued.

The public advocate had previously called on the Commission to implement a 6-1 matching funds system and to preserve fusion voting, among other measures, at a public hearing.

Among the reforms he is pushing before the Commission’s deadline on Dec. 1 include: Significantly lowering limits for Assembly, State Senate, and statewide elections by halving the current recommendations; maintaining current thresholds for ballot access for minor parties; and setting a cap on public funds that can be used for each office at amounts adequate to enable competitive campaigns but not so high as to risk depleting the state’s reserves.

Williams is also advocating an implementation date for the public financing system for 2022, rather than 2024 and 2026; and developing alternatives to the proposed in-district donation restrictions.

He said Thursday’s rally built on the massive grassroots effort led by the over 200 organizations supporting the Fair Elections for New York campaign to implement public financing throughout the state.

Campaign members who attended the rally said the program must include at least a 6-to-1 match on small donations for both primary and general elections, lower contribution limits and an independent enforcement unit.

The campaign also called attempts to eliminate fusion voting or otherwise harm minor parties an irrelevant political distraction.

“The commission was created to build recommendations for a campaign finance program that empowers New Yorkers and limits the influence of money in our elections,” said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi. “Any plan that favors large-donors and diminishes fusion voting is a departure from that original intent.

“Under a small donor matching system, having access to a network of wealthy donors will no longer be a prerequisite for candidacy,” she said. “Instead, candidates will be able to launch their campaigns through small contributions, amplifying the voices of working-class New Yorkers and diversifying political power.

“This is our chance to restore integrity to our elections and put the people front and center,” Biaggi continued. “I hope the Commission does not squander this opportunity.”

Stanley Fritz, political director of Citizen Action of New York said, “the job of this Commission is to develop an electoral system that empowers every New Yorker to participate in the democratic process.

“We must break the reign of real estate, Wall Street and business interests creating public policy that pads their own pockets at the expense of our communities,” he said.

“The public has spoken, from Long Island to Buffalo, and we want a small donor matching system that builds trust in our state government — not a new law filled with poison pills and death to third parties in New York,” he added. “We are here to demand that Gov. Cuomo does the right thing for the people of this state.”

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