A coalition of 175 grassroots and community groups is pushing Albany to pass a "fair elections" package that includes such elements as small-donor public financing, closing campaign funding loopholes and early voting.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other Democratic leaders have supported various forms of such legislation in the past, but fair elections proposals had been consistently blocked by Republicans who long controlled the state Senate, organizers say.
Now that Democrats control both the legislative and executive branches in New York, the Fair Elections for New York coalition wants elected officials to pass fair elections legislation right away. About 25 representatives from the coalition held a news conference Monday on the steps of Buffalo City Hall to press for the reforms.
“New York’s archaic laws continue to disenfranchise voters, give an unfair advantage to corporate candidates, and perpetuate the appearance of pay-to-play in our elections," said Assemblyman Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo. "I’m excited that our strong Democratic majority finally has the power to radically reform this system."
Cuomo, incoming Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have each authored fair elections proposals in the past, Ravi Mangla, a spokesman for Citizen Action of New York, said before the event. The coalition now wants them to follow through.
“We need a democratic process that works for all New Yorkers where we are increasing voter turnout, making sure that there is a longer period for voters to turn out and also a public campaign financing system ... to make sure we get more people elected into office who represent our interests versus corporate America’s interests," said Sara Palmer, another Citizen Action spokesperson.
The coalition's recommended reforms include:
- A small-donor public financing matching system for candidates in state elections, including district attorneys, like the successful program in New York City. It would include $6-to-$1 public matching funds on small-dollar donations, enforcement and robust candidate support services to help anyone running for office comply with the law. Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins and Heastie all have written small-donor matching systems proposals in the past, Mangla said.
- Limiting the influence of big money by closing the “LLC loophole,” which allows anyone to funnel unlimited money into elections and conceal the donor’s identity. Also, advocates want to reduce New York’s unusually high contribution limits.
- Making it easier to vote. This include automatic voter registration, early voting, same-day voter registration, online voter registration, "no excuse" absentee voting, preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, full voting access for people with disabilities, and writing into law New York’s new policy to extend voting rights to former felons.
The Fair Elections for New York campaign includes community, labor, tenant, immigrant, racial justice, environment, faith-based, good government and grassroots resistance organizations.