Not Déjà vu All Over Again? The Prospect for Public Campaign Financing/Pay-to-Play Reform in New York

January 5, 2012

Last year Governor Cuomo’s state of the state address advocated public financing of State elections. The Governor renewed his call for campaign finance reform yesterday, this time at length and with details. Specifically: “It’s time we make sure that all New Yorkers have an equal voice in our political process. Therefore, it is imperative that we implement real campaign finance reform and provide citizens with a voice in the very foundation of democracy —the ballot box. “New York currently ranks 48th in voter turnout in the nation. Moreover, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a smaller percentage of the population gives to candidates for election to state office in New York than in any other state. “We must reconnect the people to the political process and their government. “First, we must achieve fundamental campaign finance reform by implementing a system of public funding of elections. New York City’s public financing system provides a good model for statewide reform. The system has helped to increase the number of overall contributors — and especially the number of small donors — in city elections. To make sure we are protecting taxpayers, we will enact strict limits on total public funding per election, and we will phase the system in gradually. “Second, we must lower contribution limits. For most offices, New York State’s contribution “limits” are substantially higher than those of any other state that imposes limits. Further, existing contribution limits for corporations are riddled with loopholes. In short, the state’s campaign finance laws fail to prevent the dominance of wealthy contributors and special interests. “Third, we must enact pay-to-play rules to further restore the public trust. Companies and individuals who do business with the state should have no undue influence over elected officials. Accordingly, we must enact low contribution limits for public contractors and lobbyists. “Fourth, we must improve the enforcement of our state’s campaign finance laws by creating a new enforcement unit in the State Board of Elections with the independence and authority to investigate alleged violations. “These and other reforms to our campaign finance laws are necessary to empower New Yorkers by giving them an equal voice in our elections.” The Governor then concluded: “We must enact campaign finance reform this year.” Given that some zealots have foretold the end of the world in 2012, the question may be whether New York State will actually enact campaign finance reforms before that happens. Cynics generally link the timing of those two possible events, so we’ll see.

Tag: New York State