Commissioners disagree on best way to devise public campaign finance
Some members of a commission that’s creating the rules for a public campaign finance system for state elected offices are concerned that the plans being developed would be too favorable to incumbent politicians.
Members of the Fair Elections Coalition, a public campaign finance advocacy group, briefly disrupted the meeting to express their displeasure with the commission’s actions.
“Big money out,” they shouted as the commissioner watched.
The protesters eventually ended their demonstration, but they were not the only ones to express doubts about the commission’s direction.
The nine-member commission, made up of appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, took a series of preliminary votes on Wednesday. One, approved 6-3, would permit incumbents to keep the money in their campaign war chests from previous election cycles, even if they take part in a new public matching system. They wouldn’t get matching funds for cash collected in previous campaigns, though.
They could not come to a decision on how high to set limits for total contributions from an individual for statewide candidates. Proposals included limits of $15,000 and $20,000 per election cycle for the governor’s race. The limit for presidential candidates in the federal system is significantly lower than that at $5,600.
Another proposal would limit matching funds in state legislative races to donors who actually live in a Senate or Assembly candidate’s district. A $250 donation would ultimately be worth about $2500 under the plan. The first $50 would be matched 12-to-1 with public matching funds, the second $100 would be matched 9-to-1, and the final $100 would be eligible for an 8-to-1 match. Candidates could still receive donations from people who don’t live in the district, but they would not be matched with public funds.
The proposals led DeNora Getachew, an appointee of the Senate Democrats, to worry that candidates in poor communities would be at a disadvantage.
“People who live below the poverty line don’t have the savings,” Getachew said. “They are not going to choose to allocate the little bit of resources they have toward this.”
Getachew said she’s concerned with the direction the commission seems to be heading.
“War chests are in, high contribution limits are in,” she said. “We are designing a system that is not going to incentivize viable candidates to participate.”
Kimberly Galvin, appointed by Assembly Republicans, who are in the minority in that house, also questioned why the commission does not simply adopt the 6-to-1 matching system in use for decades in New York City. That proposal is favored by many public campaign finance advocates and experts.
“All the experts say a 6-to-1 match statewide makes it work,” Galvin said.
Other commission members -- including Cuomo appointees Jay Jacobs, who is also the state Democratic Party chair, and Mylan Denerstein -- said preventing out-of-district contributions from receiving matching public funds amplifies the voices of in-district residents.
Jacobs said no one is going to be completely happy with any plan.
“There is no magic formula here,” Jacobs said. “We’re going to improve the world as it relates to campaign finance. It will not be perfect.”
The commission has previously discussed the controversial idea of whether to limit candidates' abilities to run on multiple party lines, known as fusion voting. Jacobs proposed that for minor parties to qualify for automatic ballot placement, the state should require that they earn 250,000 votes every two years instead of the current standard of 50,000 votes every four years. That could limit the number of political parties that could participate in cross-endorsing major party candidates.
Jacobs promised to offer a new proposal to the commissioners before the next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 18.
John Nonna, also an appointee of the Senate Democrats, proposed a motion to table any further discussion of changing the state’s rules on fusion voting, saying it was a “distraction” to the commission’s work. No one seconded the motion.
Meanwhile, the left-leaning Working Families Party and the Conservative Party have filed separate lawsuits, saying the commission does not have the authority to change the rules for fusion voting. The judge in the case on Tuesday rejected a motion from the commission to dismiss the lawsuit, and has set oral arguments for Dec. 12.
The lawyer for the Working Families Party, former state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, said he’s encouraged.
“There’s more to do, but we’re pleased by the direction the litigation is taking,” Brodsky said.
The commission’s report is due before the court action concludes; the final deadline is Dec. 1.