Assembly Passes Real Reform for New York

At about 5 pm on Tuesday, June 16th, the New York State Assembly passed A8902, a bill to enact public financing of elections.

Here’s our press release:

Assembly passes Public Campaign Finance, the Only Answer to Albany’s Chaos

Senate Democrats were to Pass Similar Bill in Committee Prior to Coup

Public Financing the Only Way for Voters to Prevail In Albany

Albany –  Today the New York State Assembly passed A.8902 sponsored by Speaker Sheldon Silver.  The bill would institute a voluntary public campaign finance system for statewide, legislative and constitutional convention delegate races in New York.  The phasing in of the system would begin with the 2010 Comptroller’s race, then all statewide races in 2014 and state legislative races in 2016.

The State Senate was to move on similar legislation, S5814, last Tuesday during what would have been the Senate’s final Elections Committee meeting.  S5814 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Senate Elections Chair Joseph Addabbo.  It too would implement voluntary public financing of elections, starting with the Comptroller’s race in 2010.

“Last week’s attempt by billionaire Tom Golisano to buy the New York State Senate and dictate its agenda makes it more urgent than ever that New York get big money out of our political system and return elections to the voters of New York,” said Jessica Wisneski, Legislative Director of Citizen Action of New York, the statewide advocacy organization that has been leading the grassroots effort to pass public financing of elections in New York State. “By passing A8902 today, Speaker Silver and the State Assembly have again led the way toward creating a system where voters have more say then campaign donors and money is not the prerequisite for politics.”

A8902 would allow candidates who meet threshold requirements to receive a $4-$1 match of public funds for contributions of $250 or less from New York State residents.  Participants would agree to strict spending limits and new campaign contribution limits of $2000.  If a participating candidate is outspent by a non-participating opponent, the participant would then receive additional public funds in order to stay competitive.

“New York State’s government must take bold steps to begin to regain the public’s trust, and demonstrate that money does not rule Albany.  The only way to do that is for the Senate to get back to business and make public financing of elections the first item they take up and pass,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York.  “Even before the scandals of last week, New Yorkers and consumers were bearing the burden of a campaign finance system strapped with corporate campaign cash.  Prior approval of health insurance premiums, stricter environmental regulations and fairer rent laws are just a few examples of issues drowned in campaign cash.  The Assembly has taken the first step, now the Senate must act.”

On May 26, 2009 Citizen Action released a report, New Yorkers Pay When Big Money Plays, that clearly illustrates the impact of our current system of private funding of elections on issues relevant to low and moderate income New Yorkers like affordable health care, low-cost housing, and a clean environment.  Specifically is shows a sampling of the exorbitant amount of corporate campaign donations by industries effected by specific legislation being considered by the New York State Legislature.  For the full report go to: www.votersnotdonors.org.

“Both the Assembly’s bill and the bill introduced this year in the State Senate would begin this voluntary system with the Comptroller’s race in 2010.  That office has also seen its fair share of scandal.  Both houses should move quickly to make public financing of elections a reality for the comptroller’s race in 2010,” added Wisneski.

Voluntary public financing for election campaigns has been available in New York City for more than 20 years.  Maine, Arizona, Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont and cities across the nation have also implemented public funding systems, and they have been successfully used by a majority of candidates each election cycle.

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By Charlie Albanetti on June 17th, 2009
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