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Making case for public funding of political campaigns

Demonstrators came to downtown Buffalo on Thursday to call for publicly funded political campaigns in New York State.

Organizers said about two dozen people staged a late-morning picket outside the Erie County Board of Elections on West Eagle Street.

Featured in their argument was a newly released analysis of data from the state Board of Elections by Common Cause New York on contributions made to two area state senators.

According to their figures, the vast majority of the donations that have been made to State Sens. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, and Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, through January have come from outside their Senate districts, and most of the money raised has come from donations in amounts greater than $2,500.

Participants in the demonstration included members of Citizen Action of New York; Local 1199, Service Employees International Union; PUSH Buffalo; the Coalition for Economic Justice; and Communications Workers of America union members.

A shift toward public financing of campaigns "allows the little guy to have as much weight and influence on their legislators as the big money corporations," Jim Anderson, vice president of Citizen Action of New York, said in a written statement.

In response to a reporter's questions, Kennedy released a four-paragraph statement, through spokesman John Mackowiak Jr., in which he said he and other lawmakers are reviewing the potential effects of public financing, but also that he supports lowering contribution limits and closing corporate loopholes.

He has received more than 1,200 individual donations from Western New Yorkers since he began his run for the Senate, and 80 percent of the donations he's received since taking office in the Senate have been individual contributions, Kennedy said.

He also said many donations from outside the region have been from organizations and companies that represent Western New Yorkers.

A spokesman for Grisanti had no comment.

The event in Buffalo was among a number held across the state Thursday.

"Our current system undermines the very essence of democracy and advantages big money donors over the needs of average voters," Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said in a statement. "Public policy shouldn't be set by the highest bidder."

Citizen Action of New York has ties to former Democratic State Sen. Antoine Thompson. Danielle N. Judge, a former Thompson aide, was one of the organizers of Thursday's event. Judge said there was no connection between Thompson and the demonstration. Grisanti defeated Thompson in the 2010 election.

In October 2010, Citizen Action members were among those who announced they planned to picket a Republican fundraiser in North Buffalo where then-House Minority Leader and now House Speaker John A. Boehner made an appearance.

SEIU Local 1199, some CWA locals and Citizen Action were among the sponsors of a December 2011 fundraiser for Occupy Buffalo.