By Jim Anderson
New York State is on the brink of transformation. When the Public Campaign Financing Commission came to Buffalo in October, our residents told them that we have the power to finally push big money out of politics and bring people power back in.
What we need is a strong fair elections system in place that will make sure constituents have the same voice as donors. The commission has less than a week left to develop a new system of publicly financed elections in New York State. This means protecting the best interests of our communities and giving a voice to everyday New Yorkers so that we can have a real democracy.
New York has one of the lowest participation rates for small-money donors, according to studies by the Campaign Finance Institute. Big donors do not represent the racial, economic or geographical diversity of our state. Two-thirds of big donors who gave $10,000 or more in last year’s state elections came from New York, Nassau and Westchester counties, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, meaning downstate special interests have the largest voice in Albany. Fair elections would help upstate communities like ours be heard in Albany.
A recent poll performed by Public Policy Polling shows that 75% of New York voters support the Fair Elections for New York proposal for small donor matching and oppose making ballot access more difficult for third parties. Despite overwhelming support for reducing the influence of big money on our elections, the Public Campaign Financing Commission is heading in the wrong direction. They’re considering high contribution limits that would still be some of the highest in the country, leaving the door open for too much undue influence from the super-rich.
This move to protect the status quo for wealthy donors is a threat to real reform, and time is running out. Before its Dec. 1 deadline, the commission needs to halve the contribution limits it proposed at its last working meeting, begin the program in 2022 and ensure that enforcement of the program is truly independent.
Significantly lowering contribution limits for all political candidates will ensure that we elect officials that truly represent all people – not just the unrepresentative donor class. By implementing a 6-to-1 small-donor matching system, we can empower people from underrepresented communities – like the low-income working class, black and brown people and women – to have their voices heard by politicians and to run for office themselves. I have faith that the commission can do the right thing. And if it doesn’t, the Legislature has an obligation to pass legislation that does. Buffalo stands with the commission and the legislature in doing that. Don’t let us down.
Jim Anderson is vice president of Citizen Action of New York.