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New York City’s Model Public Financing System Must be Upheld, Replicated Statewide

A coalition of good government groups that have been advocating for public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform in New York State filed a friend-of-the-court brief today supporting New York City’s model small donor public financing system.

July 2, 2012

Good Government Groups File Brief in Ognibene v. Parkes

For immediate release: July 2, 2012

Contact: Madeline Friedman,, 646–292–8357

Contact: Dick Dadey, Citizens Union,, 917–709–2896

New York, NY – A coalition of good government groups that have been advocating for public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform in New York State filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday supporting New York City’s model small donor public financing system. The groups urged the Court to affirm that public financing furthers democratic values by helping restore the influence of all New Yorkers during campaigns and remove the influence of special interest sponsors.

The Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union and pro bono counsel at Proskauer Rose LLP, drafted the amicus brief.  These groups — together with Common Cause New York, the League of Women Voters of New York, and New York Public Interest Research Group — filed the brief in Ognibene v. Parkes, a challenge to New York City’s successful system brought by campaign finance reform opponent James Bopp.

The brief stresses the importance of the City’s public financing system, which has enjoyed robust participation by serious, credible candidates. Public financing has promoted voter choice by increasing diversity and competition in city elections and dramatically expanded the number of New Yorkers who contribute to campaigns as small donors, the brief states.

“Public financing is a powerful weapon against the corrupting influence of special interest money in our elections,” said Mark Ladov, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy and Justice Programs. “Just as public financing put a major dent in scandal in New York City, it can help us clean up Albany next. New Yorkers should urge Governor Cuomo and the legislature to pass public financing on the state level, creating a model for reform that the rest of the nation can follow.”

“The City’s public finance system stands tall as a bulwark against a nation awash in political spending dominated by corporations, unions and other moneyed interests,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.  “The brief filed today by Citizens Union and our good government partners is more than a defense of the City’s model system, it is a clarion call for replication by New York State and governments across our country.” 

“Political fundraising has become a race to the top, and the disproportionate influence of high worth individuals on the process undermines the core principles of our democracy,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director at Common Cause New York.  “Yet New York City’s public financing system has allowed for a true citizen legislative body, with people of average means able to run for higher office. We should be fighting to replicate, not dismantle it.”

 “The League of Women Voters of the City of New York was an early and staunch supporter- and remains so today- of the New York City Campaign Finance Law because the League, at the national, state and local level consider the public campaign financing laws as important tools to protect, extend and encourage the use of the franchise,” said Mary Lou Urban, Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.

“New York’s landmark campaign finance law is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant climate of influence peddling by big monied interests.  That’s why are proud to defend the law from attack,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for NYPIRG.

Two aspects of New York City’s public financing program are at issue in Ognibene. One conserves taxpayer dollars by reducing grants in non-competitive races, and the other releases candidates from voluntary campaign expenditure limits in particularly expensive races. “These provisions are entirely compatible with the First Amendment’s robust protection of political speech,” the brief states.


The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution — part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group — the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the public sector.

Citizens Union is a nonpartisan good government group dedicated to making democracy work for all New Yorkers.  Citizens Union serves as a civic watchdog, combating corruption and fighting for political reform.  We work to ensure fair and open elections, honest and efficient government, and a civically-engaged public.  We are New Yorkers from diverse backgrounds and political beliefs, connected to our communities and united in our commitment to put the city’s long-term interest ahead of all special interests.  Principled and pragmatic, Citizens Union is an independent force for constructive reform, driving policy and educating the public to achieve accountable government in the City and State of New York.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.  Now with nearly 400,000 members and supporters and 36 state organizations, Common Cause remains committed to honest, open and accountable government, as well as encouraging citizen participation in democracy.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.