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Groups urge New York to adopt public financing system for campaigns

National government watchdog groups have begun an effort to get New York State to adopt a public financing system for campaigns to remove the "corrosive" influence of special interest groups at the state Capitol.

Supporters on Friday said the system would cost about $15 million a year -- about double what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spent in his campaign last year -- and save money by forcing down state spending now driven to deep-pocket donors each year during the budget process.

"All the people of New York already pay for the current system in higher prices they pay for things used to distort the election process and put money into corporations and large donors who turn that money around for their own personal use rather than the public interest," said Bob Edgar, a former member of Congress who is president of Common Cause.

The national groups, an assortment of nonpartisan and also left-leaning organizations, made the plea for a New York public financing system on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which gave corporations and unions the ability to freely spend as much as they want to support or oppose candidates.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a New York University School of Law center that has promoted a number of reform efforts at the state Capitol, believes the interest by the national organizations will help prod Cuomo -- who has said he supports public campaign financing -- and legislators to move on a bill this year.

"We believe that there is a rare opportunity to make real progress on real reform in Albany," said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center.

The national groups believe action in New York on a campaign finance bill would prod other states to follow. There are already public financing systems in states like Maine and Connecticut, as well as in New York City.

Critics, including Republicans in the GOP-led State Senate, say the government should stay out of funding political campaigns. They also feel New York's $10 billion deficit makes the timing of the request unworkable, given the cutbacks schools, health care providers and others in the state are facing this year.

But supporters say taxpayers would save far more if the influence of special interests -- that pour millions each year into the campaign accounts of statewide officeholders and legislators -- was limited with a public financing system.

Passage of such a law in New York would have "national repercussions" and move other reluctant states to join the movement, said Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign.

The groups -- which also include the National Organization for Women, Rock the Vote and such liberal mainstays as People for the American Way -- sent a letter to Cuomo on Friday urging him to keep to his campaign pledge to push a public financing system in New York.

The letter comes several days after an advocacy group backed by Cuomo -- created, in part, to help finance expected union attacks on the governor's plans to curb spending and taxes -- came under criticism for declining to reveal its donors. The group has since said it will file with a state ethics agency as a lobbying entity.

"Passing a public financing system in New York would send a strong signal to the rest of the country and the U.S. Congress that the American people are ready for a change in the way our political system works," the group wrote.


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