Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his own proposal for public financing of campaigns. The governor’s proposal adds to several others currently under consideration to get money out of the electoral system in the state. After a year of high-profile corruption scandals and arrests, it’s clear that something must be done.
In early April, the state senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (a breakaway group of Democratic senators that joined with Republicans to give the GOP control over the state senate) issued a proposal for campaign finance reform. Among the highlights, the proposal completely bans corporate contributions, eliminates transfers between state parties and individual political committees, and increases disclosure requirements. The proposal also eliminates party “housekeeping” accounts, which are used to finance campaign related costs, such as overhead, office space, and utilities. There is currently no limit to the amount of contributions these committees can receive. The bill also establishes an optional public financing program that would provide a 6:1 match for contributions up to $250.
A few days later, the state Assembly unveiled their own public financing proposal that also included an optional system that provides a 6:1 match for contributions up to $250. The bill also requires more disclosure of independent expenditures but still allows the housekeeping accounts to accept unlimited donations. It also would create a new five-member board that would cover the public financing system and election laws, in general. The new board would investigate and refer matters for prosecution by the attorney general, in contrast the current four-member Board of Elections has exclusive jurisdiction over election law violations.
Like the other two plans, Governor Cuomo proposes a matching program. He also wants to lower corporate contribution limits and place limits on the amount of money that housekeeping accounts can accept. It also includes the most aggressive disclosure law that would require any contributions to a PAC, lobbying 501 (c)(3), other 501 (c) organization, political committee, or political party over $500 will be disclosed within 48 hours and within 24 hours near Election Day. Current law requires disclosure every six months to a year, if disclosure is required, at all.
The 6:1 matching provision is based on New York City’s public financing system. The City’s matching limit is a bit lower—$175—but the impact of the program is clear. Matching small donor contributions brings more people into the electoral system and elevates the importance of small donations. A review of the City’s program found that matching funds increased the proportional role of small donors, increase the number of small donors, and shifted the demographic and class profile of donors.
As we highlighted in Stacked Deck, the donor class is largely comprised of affluent individuals. Matching small contributions start to change that dynamic. A $20 donation becomes $120. A $100 donation becomes $600. Instead of relying on big donors, candidates can raise their campaign funds from a more diverse donor base, which allows them to hear from more diverse voices and interests.
Money, perhaps more than anything, is corrupting our electoral system. With just one week remaining in the legislative session, something must be passed in New York to turn the tide back towards constituents and away from affluent and corporate interests.