About Public Financing

In the past two years, Gov. David A. Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have all supported campaign financing reform, if not outright public financing. Which ones will now take ownership of the movement for campaign reform – Paterson? Silver? Or Smith?

– Long Island’s Newsday, March 22, 2009

What is a public financing of elections?

Instead of candidates for office raising a lot of large contributions from wealthy donors, a voluntary system of public financing of elections allows candidates to run for office by collecting many small donations and receiving public funds to run their campaign.

Why do we care about passing public financing of elections?

Public financing puts political power and the power to make real changes in our community back into the hands of the people, the voters – not large, corporate campaign donors.

If we want effective environmental policies, real tenant protections, health care that works well for all of us, and fair utility rates, we have to end the undue influence oil companies, real estate, pharmaceuticals, the insurance industry, and other big lobby groups have because their financial power blocks good laws from being passed and influences passage of bills that hurt the public.

Finally, public financing levels the playing field and gives people from many different backgrounds, including more women and more people of color who are traditionally outspent in campaigns, a fair shot at getting elected without owing favors to corporate interests and lobbyists.

Public Financing of Elections WORKS:

26 states have enacted public financing of election systems including Maine, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont. New York City has used a “matching funds” public financing system for its citywide and city counsel races since 1980.

  • 85% of the newly elected Maine legislature used their “Clean Elections” public financing system in 2008.
  • In 2006, 9 out of 11 statewide officials in Arizona, including Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, were elected without accepting any private money contributions for their campaigns.
  • Connecticut state lawmakers used their new public financing system for the first time in 2008 and 81% of candidates used the system, collecting only small donations to run for office.

In New York State we are working to pass a voluntary system of public financing that’s right for us. We want to take the best of New York City’s matching funds system and the best of Maine, Arizona and Connecticut’s “Clean Elections” system that gives grants of public funds to candidates based on their ability to collect many small donations from individuals.

Recent background on Public Financing of Elections bills in New York:

In June 2008 The State Assembly passed a public funding bill (A11507-a) sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. It is a NYC-style matching system, but with a clean elections style grant included for candidates who are being outspent. The bill provides $4 in public funds for every $1 raised in small contributions ($250 or less), plus a grant of additional public funds for candidates who are being outspent by non-participating opponents. It is a ‘partial’ public financing system, and candidates can continue to raise private contributions of up to $2,000.

Also in 2008 now Senate Majority Leader Smith was the lead sponsor of a public funding bill (S7175-a) which is a full public funding system, similar to Connecticut’s system. Candidates qualify by collecting a set number of small contributions ($5 to $100) and then get a grant of public funds (and stop raising private money). Senator Smith’s bill had 18 co-sponsors.

OUR GOAL FOR 2009:

A 2009 “same as” bill – Now it is time for the Assembly and Senate to negotiate a “same as” bill that meets the policy needs of both houses and pass it before the end of this legislative session in June 2009. A hybrid approach should keep the Assembly’s matching fund structure, and also provide grants that incorporate aspects of the Senate’s style of public financing.