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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, madeline.fried­man@nyu.edu, 646–292–8357

Contact: Dick Dadey, Citizens Union, ddadey@­cit­izen­sunion.org, 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.

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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.