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The offices of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and other Albany leaders announced the names of the nine commissioners who will design a public financing program for New York State elections. The state’s 2019-2020 budget, enacted in April, established a voluntary public financing system for statewide and state legislative offices but left the details to the commission. The commission must report its recommendations to the governor and legislature by December 1, and the recommendations will become law unless changed by legislation before December 22.
Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, said:
“The law charges the commissioners named today with a historic task: design a public financing system that incentivizes candidates to seek more small donations. If they do it right, the system they create will give New Yorkers a stronger voice in Albany. If the commissioners do it wrong, their system will fail, and Albany’s status quo will remain.
“Fortunately, we know what New York State needs in a small donor public financing system. The necessary research and analysis have been done. The commissioners have the blueprints. They must remain accountable about the decisions they make as they build the system, holding public hearings and releasing a draft of their plan for public comment.
“The commission was established to put our state’s democracy back on course. It must not squander that opportunity.”
The Brennan Center for Justice recommends the following components for an effective small donor public financing system in New York State. The system must:
- Apply to both primary and general elections.
- Match each small donation with public funds, multiplying by a factor big enough to encourage candidates to rely more on small donations and less on a few big contributions.
- Have qualifying thresholds — the amount of small donations that candidates must raise to qualify for the system — low enough for anyone with substantial community support to participate.
- Set contribution limits for individuals that are low enough to incentivize candidates to seek more small donations and fewer large donations.
Here is the section of the budget legislation establishing the public financing commission (from https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2019/S1509C, part XXX, page 196):
“The commission shall make its recommendations in furtherance of the goals of incentivizing candidates to solicit small contributions, reducing the pressure on candidates to spend inordinate amounts of time raising large contributions for their campaigns, and encouraging qualified candidates to run for office.”
The Brennan Center’s report, The Case for Small Donor Public Financing in New York, is available here.