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Prominent Bipartisan Group Offers Support to Cuomo to Press Ahead on Public Funding of Campaigns

In a letter to the Governor, a prominent group of bipartisan political figures argues: “Real change can’t happen in Albany until we limit the torrent of special interest money flowing into incumbents’ coffers and create a public funding system that will provide a real alternative for candidates from the current status quo of money and politics.”

February 28, 2011

For Immediate Release: February 28, 2011
Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 646-292-8322

New York – A prominent group of bipartisan political figures, business executives, clergy and civil rights leaders sent a letter to Governor Cuomo this weekend, offering their support for one of his primary reform goals this year: moving to "voter owned elections," through a voluntary public funding system that can counteract the outsized influence of special interest money in New York's elections and politics.

Read the letter to Governor Cuomo (PDF).

The group includes former U.S. Senators Bill Bradley and Bob Kerrey, three former members of the U.S. House of Representatives (two Republicans and one Democrat), former Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission under George W. Bush (Hon. William H. Donaldson), former New York City Mayor Edward Koch, Seagram’s former President Edgar Bronfman, Sr., Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, former Fordham University President Father Joseph O’Hare, New York State NAACP President Hazel N. Dukes, among others.

In a letter to the Governor, the group argues: “Real change can’t happen in Albany until we limit the torrent of special interest money flowing into incumbents’ coffers and create a public funding system that will provide a real alternative for candidates from the current status quo of money and politics.”

Public financing of elections in New York State would cost between $20 and $30 million annually, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a miniscule portion of an annual state budget that exceeds $130 billion annually.  Moreover, the investment in "voter owned elections" would save the state billions of dollars per year in costly giveaways to special interests. In February, the Brennan Center released a study on ethics reform in New York, which showed a correlation between special interest campaign contributions and several sweetheart deals that have cost the state billions of dollars in the last decade.  The Brennan Center and several other good government groups have proposed several innovative ways to generate revenue to initiate and continually fund a voluntary public funding program. These include private funding sources, such as philanthropic grants from foundations, among other sources.

The letter comes as the Governor grapples with the state budget and other reform efforts, including redistricting and ethics. The group notes that while "ethics reforms –including an independent ethics watchdog and an independent prosecutor – are necessary, they’re not sufficient. ... One year after the Citizens United ruling unleashed an era of special interest spending, unheralded in size and scope in the history of our democracy – public funding of campaigns will define democracy in New York State.”

The group urges Cuomo to look at New York City's public financing system as a viable model to show that public funding works. Under the New York City system, candidates have fused fundraising with voter outreach, successfully run for office, and created a City Council that truly reflects the diversity of New York City. “A public funding system with voluntary limits and matching funds similar to New York City’s will dramatically reduce candidates’ dependence on special interest donors and lobbyists’ political contributions,” reads the letter.

New York City has experimented with public financing since 1989. The program started with a one-to-one matching system on $1,000 donations. For the 2001 election, the match changed to four-to-one on $250 donations. In the 2009 election cycle, a six-to-one match on $175 donations was implemented.  A recent Brennan Center study based on extensive interviews showed that New York City’s matching funds program has led to more competition, more grassroots campaigning, and more citizen participation.  

“Special interests in New York have far too much influence over our electoral system. The current system costs New York billions of dollars in backroom deals to special interests and fosters an environment of corruption,” says Frederick A.O. Schwarz, Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

 “Public financing of elections in New York is a win-win situation. It will save the state significant money, is relatively inexpensive to implement, and will encourage jaded New York to participate in a system they believe will keep elected officials honest and accountable to the voters.”

 

For more information, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 646-292-8322 or at Jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu.